While this isn’t a guide on how to sleep your way to an “A” (next time), making a new friend, whether a professor or a student, is a lot like dating. There is courting, effort, vulnerability — waiting the next day for the email that never comes. It’s hard work, but it’s worth it. I promise the rest of this article will be explicitly platonic.
Some students regard professors as arbiters of their fate to whom they must sacrifice their time, will and the blood of an infant. These students probably also vacuum their driveway because they’re crazy. Really, professors are just lovely people, and here’s why you should take the time to meet them.
Their Passion Will Stir Yours
Professors are among the most passionate about their occupation. Kevin Ohi, an English Professor at Boston College, said “We’re passionate about ideas; it’s our job, but also our life. It’s good for students to meet people who live that way. We’re kind of Martians.” During the year, my schedule gets so busy I often forget why I’m doing what I’m doing. Amidst the automatic rhythm of class, clubs and homework, professors are oases of purpose. Their drive may manifest itself as frantic energy, but there’s something to be learned in the fact that their vitality surpasses ours.
Professors are old, experienced and smart and so are their many friends. Neil Wolfman, a chemistry professor at Boston College and recipient of the prestigious Phi Betta Kappa Teaching Award, regularly puts students in touch with working professionals, from his orthopedic surgeon to his own children. In the former case, he said two freshmen sent him pictures of scrubbing up before entering the O.R., which is an unprecedented experience for first-year students. LinkedIn’s great, but the only thing an “All Star” ranking improves is your self-esteem. However, merely mentioning your interests to a professor could put you face-to-socket with a total hip replacement surgery. Maybe I’m just getting too old, but students have forgotten the value of the phrase, “I know a guy.”
They’re Fascinating People
Because of the consumer culture that surrounds education, professors can’t afford to be dull if they really want to engage their students. We see glimpses of wit or charisma during discussion or lecture, but office hours reveal who professors are as people. Kevin Newmark, a professor at Boston College who studies romance language and literature said, “The biggest benefit [to students] is that they meet several different dimensions of the same person they don’t have access to in the classroom. The dynamic changes from one teacher and multiple students to one older professional and one younger non-professional.” In the office, professors are like worldly aunts and uncles. They want to know you, they give life-changing advice and they won’t tell your parents that you intentionally flooded the basement to make an indoor pool.
They’ll Remember you come grading time
Favoritism is an ugly word, but a friendly rapport with your professor will undeniably play to your benefit. Office hours afford students an opportunity to show professors how they think outside of a paper, which has been the salvation of charming idiots for centuries. Ohi said that when students express their interests, “they do better, because we’re human.” When your red-eyed Brit lit professor finally gets to your paper at the witching hour of the night, she’ll be more likely to cut you some slack based on the fact that she knew where you were going with it.
But professors aren’t fools. Newmark said that it becomes uncomfortably clear to professors when students come to office hours with a self-serving agenda: The student is fidgety and transparent, the professor dislikes his motives and everyone leaves feeling unclean. There is never a guarantee of higher grades, nor should there be, but when you have an 89.7 at the end of a semester, you can sleep easier knowing you have the benefit of the doubt. But even the strongest of friendships can’t save you from a “D,” so don’t push it.
They might help you find a spouse
Sixteen years ago in Wolfman’s first semester class at Boston College, a boy met a girl. After a proposal in front of Merkert Chemistry Center that I hope involved thermite, they got married outside St. Ignacious Church and Wolfman attended the wedding. Each year, Wolfman said he gets dinner with these helix-crossed lovers to catch up with their lives. You could say Wolfman had nothing to do with the start of their marriage, but after 16 vibrant years, his class has certainly been the glue that’s kept it together.
They aren’t like high school mean girls
Professors and students differ in what constitutes as annoying. What students universally perceive as unbearable behavior, professors may interpret as enthusiasm…like arrogantly blurting out an answer or using the word “procure” sincerely. Conversely, the kind-eyed sophomore may exclusively enrage the professor because he texts during class. We just don’t operate on the same social cues. “One advantage of being relatively elderly is that all sorts of social things that really bothered me as a student, I can’t see anymore. I’m too old and out of it. All the different ways that people are dorky or popular, all the signals you guys can read instantly with each other are largely invisible to me because I’m a different generation. I’m not irritated by the people I suspect might irritate the students,” said Ohi.
Good news for all the dorks out there: The harassment stops at the professor. The bad news: You’re still not cool; he just doesn’t know any better.