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How do you get to know professors for LORs?


warbrain

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I guess maybe I should have looked into this before choosing colleges, but I'm currently a sophomore taking two upper-division courses and one graduate level course in my major and am starting to get worried about how I would be able to get letters of recommendations from professors. The problem is that my classes are huge - my upper division classes have a hundred or one-hundred fifty students, and my graduate level class has 70, so my professors will barely be able to recognize me from lectures. I've read that it's a good idea to go to office hours, but I'm not exactly sure what I'm supposed to do, since these classes aren't really giving me trouble (yet); I don't want to waste my professors' time by trying to chat with them when other students might actually need their help. Does anyone have advice on what to do?

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I guess maybe I should have looked into this before choosing colleges, but I'm currently a sophomore taking two upper-division courses and one graduate level course in my major and am starting to get worried about how I would be able to get letters of recommendations from professors. The problem is that my classes are huge - my upper division classes have a hundred or one-hundred fifty students, and my graduate level class has 70, so my professors will barely be able to recognize me from lectures. I've read that it's a good idea to go to office hours, but I'm not exactly sure what I'm supposed to do, since these classes aren't really giving me trouble (yet); I don't want to waste my professors' time by trying to chat with them when other students might actually need their help. Does anyone have advice on what to do?

As Eigen said, try to get the opportunity to work on a research project with them. Profs are usually looking for research assistants, so browse their webpages or just ask them after class, or by email, if they have any need for an undergraduate research assistant. Be willing to assist in any way you can, sometimes they'll just need help with data entry, which might seem not particularly fulfilling. However, if you do those tasks well, chances are you'll get opportunities to work on more fun stuff when the prof needs help in other areas. When your time comes to apply for grad school, you'll have some research experience as well as profs that you can ask for LoRs.

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In courses this big, I don't think it is a bad idea to drop in during office hours, mention that you are enjoying the class and that you are considering graduate work in the field. You can always ask about ways of pursuing your specific interests while still an undergrad (hence the directed research projects). Just letting the professor know you are interested in continuing as a grad student will help put you on the radar, and you can go from there.

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Ask about their research. They love to talk about their research. Keep peppering them with questions. Show interest in the class and make some suggestions for the final paper (if you have one). You should be able to get into an engaging conversation. Try to work with the professor as you go through the steps for the final paper so they get to know how you work/think and give you some guidance... all that equals to better relationship.

if you need an icebreaker when you walk in, take a quick look around the room and find something interesting and comment on it.

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In sections that big, you MUST go to office hours. You don't have to be having trouble in the course to go talk to the professor for a few minutes. That's what "office hours" are for. You can just mention something that interested you during the course so far and it will go from there... don't overthink it. I'm actually quite shy and really had to force myself to do it in the beginning but now I talk to my 3 mentors all the time with no problem. Developing a relationship with professors who will ultimately write for you is crucial and since you are still only a sophomore you have enough time to do this. However, don't put it off... It's not as hard as you think. Just do it!

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I've read that it's a good idea to go to office hours, but I'm not exactly sure what I'm supposed to do, since these classes aren't really giving me trouble (yet)

If you aren't having any trouble with the assigned work (which is a good thing), try to think a step beyond. "Dr. X, the other day in class you mentioned that blah blah blah. I understand the theory, but I'm wondering how you would implement it in a situation where blah blah blah..."

Profs absolutely love students who think past the basic material.

I don't want to waste my professors' time by trying to chat with them when other students might actually need their help.

Look, let me tell you something. I TAed a class of 100+ students last semester. There were four of us offering office hours: the professor in charge of lecture, the professor in charge of lab, and two TAs. Total office hours per week: around 20. On average, maybe ONE of us got a student coming in to talk each week. (Of course it wasn't evenly distributed: we had more visitors right before tests and fewer right after.)

I wish this were an isolated case, but all the profs I talk to say the same thing: students rarely come to office hours. And the ones who do show up are usually the ones who don't need as much help. (The students who are really failing never come. This may explain why they're failing...)

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if you need an icebreaker when you walk in, take a quick look around the room and find something interesting and comment on it.

I do the same thing, though when I first walk into a professor's office, I immediately begin scanning their bookshelves.

For the OP, once you've taken a class and visited a professor a couple of times, you can ask if they'd be willing to do an independent study. This is an ideal way, as someone said before, to further develop your relationship with a professor and help secure a very good letter. Most independent studies I've done consisted of me and the professor making a reading list and then reading a book meeting to discuss it every two weeks. Some professors may want to meet once a month, but it is a great way to get more meaningful interaction with a professor.

Edited by natsteel
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