I write this because I genuinely feel love for you; and when you’re hurt, I’m sad. I am asking, begging, imploring you to follow the advice of professors and mentors who take the time to give you advice, work out situations that will help you, and move you closer to your goals. We receive such joy when you reach your milestones! But we experience pain, whether you know it or not, when we tell you how to succeed and then you don’t follow our advice. Some professors don’t care. But professors who mentor, directors who mentor, alumni who mentor, administrators who mentor … we care!
I’m sensitive to this as I’m returning to work and going straight into both meetings with students and grade audits. Sometimes things don’t work in your favor because you’ve experienced a personal situation, a family issue, or an illness. That is understandable. But sometimes, you don’t do well in your classes or with your projects because you’ve let laziness or fear overcome you.
Please note that we give of ourselves to give you tips to succeed because we’ve been where you are trying to go! We have the degrees that you are trying to get! We have jobs! We tell you how to get there, but when you don’t follow directions, it makes us feel like we’ve wasted our time. But often, we keep on working with you because we care. And yes, we really mean that!
Here are 10 tips to consider:
- When a mentor tells you to call/email/visit a professor, do it. It is usually for your own good. Even if the response from that professor seems negative, you’re usually always better off confronting the situation than ignoring it.
- When a mentor gives you the name and contact information of a “friend or colleague in the business” who might be able to help you, contact them! Some mentors contact their friends in advance and tell them to expect your call. When you don’t call, it makes us look bad. When you then come back to us and tell us that you still haven’t found a postdoc or a job or an internship (AND you didn’t call), we’re saddened because if you had only called our colleagues like we told you to, you might have had a position by now.
- When a professor tells you to come and see them for office hours, GO AND SEE THEM!!!! I feel like I am yelling. In a way, I am. I’m a former professor who is now an administrator. I work with both students and faculty. It pains me when a professor comes to me and says “I wanted to help Student A, but he never came to see me,” or “I had some extra books to share with Student B, but she always left class early and never talked to me.” All professors should have some kind of a listing for office hours on their syllabus. GO AND SEE THEM! And when a professor writes “See me” on your paper or says “Come to office hours” … GO AND SEE THEM! And this means to PHYSICALLY go and see them … face-to-face … this is not email time. (Sigh.)
- Don’t be lazy. Check your work before you turn it in. Check it several times. Then check it again.
- Don’t be a loner. Start off the year looking for people to connect with. Yes, people are shy, and some may have preconceived notions about you, but ultimately you are all there for the same reason.
- Work on simple things like speaking to people. Yes, that’s right. Say hi to people even if they don’t respond. This will help you with shyness. Say “good morning” to people in your path. Say “have a good evening” when you leave your department. Say “hi” to the person sitting next to you in class. It doesn’t make sense for you to go through an entire semester in the same seat and not even know the name of the person sitting next to you. To ease into this practice, arrive early and make some small talk after class. Ask about study sessions. YOU may be the one who has to organize it.
- Don’t be afraid of different cultures. Learn about them. You may be surprised to see how many things you have in common, and you can learn to appreciate the differences.
- Ask questions. I can understand not wanting to ask a question in class, but you should take a chance sometimes. Ask questions of the professor before and after class. Make it your mission to understand what is going on.
- Meet as many people as you can within your discipline and even outside of it … through programs on campus, meetings, conferences, etc. All of you should be actively participating in at least two groups or programs. At least one should be discipline specific (e.g. ASME, IEEE, ACS, ASHA) and participate in *at least* one that will positively connect you to other students (e.g., SWE, NSBE, SHPE, SACNAS, PROMISE (AGEP), Toastmasters). Without question, you should be actively involved in any group that is providing you with funding or considers you to be a member scholar (e.g. McNair, Meyerhoff, WISE, various fellowships, various scholarships). My examples are related to STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) groups because of my personal experiences, but you can substitute your own organizations.
- Finally, do not take your position in the academy for granted. Whether you are in undergrad or grad school, you have worked hard and you deserve to be there. It may be hard, but usually there is help! Reach out and utilize your resources … people and organizations on campus who can help you. Plan to succeed! Don’t not be so nervous such that you set yourself up for failure. You CAN do it. In memory of one of my former students who is now deceased (Jessica Soto Perez), you are alive … so you CAN do this! If you’re nervous, find people on campus who will reach out to help you. Look for offices of student life and student affairs. We may not be able to solve all of the issues, but we will do what we can. Don’t be afraid to go to the counseling center! It’s ok if you need to talk with someone! Take your place in the academy. You are there … you have a mission … you can succeed!
With warm regards, wishing the best for all of you,
(This message will be mirrored on my Facebook notes. Comments and questions are encouraged. If you’re looking for a person or office to help on your campus, we may be able to point you in the right direction.)