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Unforgettable student


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During my undergrad I was the shy quiet student in the back and did not make very many connections. I luckily made a couple good ones with professors who remembered me enough after 4 years to write my LORs. This time around I want to make more connections and be one of the students who puts themselves out there more. When speaking with various professors many mentioned some of their students and their work. I could notice the prof speaking with different levels of enthusiasm for different students. I want to be one of the students that profs will know something about and speak with enthusiasm about,

As a high school teacher I find the students who ask questions during class and stop by to ask for help now and then before school are the students that get an extra gold star in my book regardless of if they have good or poor grades. I think for high school kids it's something to see them put in the extra effort. I make great connections with these kids and would be able to remember them and write great recommendations for them in the future, while the silent kid in the back with a 105% may not ring a bell for me the following year.

I definitely plan to follow my students example and ask questions in class as well as stop by for office hours with questions. Does anyone have other suggestions a still somewhat shy awkward student can push themselves to do in grad school?

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See while I agree in principle, in my department office hour visits are not particularly appreciated. Professors are very busy so there is a need to balance the desire to present an engaged image versus downplaying a "needy" image. More than office hours, I suggest actively contributing to class discussions in a constructive manner. More than anything else, seminar discussion seems to be where students distinguish themselves early in grad school.

Edited by IRdreams
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Or just other common sense ideas that may have been forgotten, especially by those of us who've been out of school for some time... Such as: turning your cell phone off or silent, not on vibrate (it can be really loud, especially if on a hard surface).

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In my undergrad department, they encouraged senior undergrads, especially those interested in research/grad school, to attend the weekly departmental seminars or colloquia talks. Usually most of the faculty will be there, and you should ask questions if you have them!

There is usually a coffee/donut/tea time either before or after the talk. That could be a good way to talk to some of the profs without bothering them (since when they choose to go to coffee time, they are choosing to take a break instead of you coming into their office).

But the best way is seamlessly integrate into the grad student/faculty group is to start doing research. In places I've been to, senior undergrads doing their thesis research are basically treated as grad students in-training, so you'll be a part of the "community".

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Stell4, these are good points you raise. I'm five years removed from my undergrad, and the only prof that I felt comfortable using for a reference was the one I worked for; there weren't any profs from classes that I had kept a relationship with beyond when I had them for class. And I remember the dilemma about office hours: I didn't want to go to office hours or ask questions under false pretenses, and it seems inconsiderate of their time to ask for help if I hadn't worked hard to figure it out myself yet. While I was an undergrad, the prof I used as a reference was my honors E&M prof, because that class was so hard we all worked our tails off and STILL ended up in office hours (and thus got to know him well). But I also agree with you about teaching high school and remembering the kids who came in after hours.

But probably classes will be smaller in grad school -- so more time for discussion/personality in class -- and presumably it will be hard enough that we'll have the "privilege" of being utterly stumped and in need of guidance, no false pretenses. Plus, like TakeruK said, research will be where we'll get to know people best, I hope.

I also followed up with one of the grad school profs I met before and asked him if there was anything I should prep before hand, such as a book he could recommend. I'm hoping that will make it easier to open communication lines come the fall.

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Given your listed program, I'm going to assume class size will be much smaller than you experienced in undergrad. Similarly, you'll likely be working more closely with professors on research than you did in undergrad. Don't try to overextend yourself beyond your natural personality as it will seem false, but certainly put in extra effort to be a dedicated student. Depending on your program, if it's the norm to visit during office hours, then certainly do so. If there is a departmental lecture series, attend it. Allow your ideas to flourish both in class and on paper. You don't have to be hyper verbal in order to be noticed in grad school.

Edited by mirandaw
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In undergrad, I don't recall feeling like I was intruding or the professors had something better to do during their office hours. That is was office hours are for, after all. Of course most of my professors had the closed door rule. If the door is open, that means they aren't busy and they don't mind someone coming in to ask a question. If the door is closed, then they are busy and please don't knock.

I guess my advice, as far as being an unforgettable student goes, is to go to a professor's office prepared to talk about something. What I mean is, don't appear as though you're just looking for an answer without first trying to find it yourself. Bring your own ideas to the discussion.

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I personally found it quite easy to go over to office hours to get feedback. It's a good way to get to know professors, they see that you're interested and want to learn, but you don't just go there for the sake of going there. For example, I had a class where we had to do a presentation. I went in a couple of weeks prior just to talk about ideas and what the prof deemed appropriate, sent my ppt one week before the presentation so they'd have time to go through it, came the week after to get in-detail feedback and talk about my paper. Then, after my paper was done, I also went there to discuss the paper and get feedback. That has the added benefit of actually getting feedback and improving. This, of course, only works in small seminar-like classes where the professor himself does the marking (fortunately, most of the classes I took were that way).

In lectures, I found it useful to try to ask questions (they are usually encouraged and if you're up to date with the readings etc., chances are other people will have the same questions) during the lecture. Then, I usually went to office hours once a semester, just to "chat". I'd usually have a question that I wanted to get answered and couldn't find a satisfactory answer to, so I'd set up an appointment and/or just go to their office hours. More often than not, the professors at my undergrad had lots of time and asked questions about me etc., but that might just be my undergrad. Hope that helps.

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I certainly think it's a great idea to be more involved with professors- I truly believe that's the way to get the most of the grad school experience.

You will probably find that after or before class is a great way to start chatting with your professors. I know I was really surprised my first few classes that the prof would come in 10-15 min early and just chat the students up. Just building a rapport is great. Also, engage in the discussions in class and challenge things- show you can think outside the box and that you have your own opinion...bring in additional materials to class that link into what is being taught.

Also, what people said about getting feedback on papers is really important. I never felt comfortable just 'dropping' by- but that's just my personality. I would do to the prof after class as say "I have a few questions about the assignment, would we be able to talk today or tomorrow about it?" ...if they say 'drop by during office hours' then you know that they are okay with students doing that. Or they might say 'email me to set up'..To me, that was the most comfortable way to engage with them.

As others said- don't force it..be yourself, open for discussion and wanting to learn. I think if you're in grad school you've already shown that you different than other students and are eager and motivated.

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You will probably find that after or before class is a great way to start chatting with your professors. I know I was really surprised my first few classes that the prof would come in 10-15 min early and just chat the students up. Just building a rapport is great. Also, engage in the discussions in class and challenge things- show you can think outside the box and that you have your own opinion...bring in additional materials to class that link into what is being taught.

udents and are eager and motivated.

THIS. I think this totally motivated me to get to class early-- just having the opportunity to talk casually and get comfortable before the heavy work begins. You also learn some interesting and new things about your professor and whatever is going on. It helps to get class started on time (which may mean that the professor can actually end class ON time or a bit earlier). It also helped me to get settled in with my notes and be prepared to hit the ground running with my thoughts and questions.

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THIS. I think this totally motivated me to get to class early-- just having the opportunity to talk casually and get comfortable before the heavy work begins. You also learn some interesting and new things about your professor and whatever is going on. It helps to get class started on time (which may mean that the professor can actually end class ON time or a bit earlier). It also helped me to get settled in with my notes and be prepared to hit the ground running with my thoughts and questions.

Yup, I think the time before class is REALLY important for students...

I also noticed that once you hit grad school (and it changes a bit too between masters and PhD), the relationship with your professors change. In my UG, the profs could have cared less who you are and what you were doing- you were a student and they were the teacher. In grad school, it was more a mentor-student relationship where they were interested in your work, progress, background, etc....it almost moved more to a peer-peer relationship.

Embracing it, and reciprocating (e.g., asking them about their work), will really get you to stand out!

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  • 2 months later...

I agree with the sensibility that one should not go to office hours just to go to office hours.

However, I don't think that one should not go to office hours because one thinks he or she hasn't anything interesting to say. It is my considered opinion that many members of this BB "self-check" themselves during their UG experiences. it is my concern that some of you may carry this habit along with you to graduate school.

Sometimes, taking a risk is the way to go. Get a sense if the professor is the type to go Kingsfield or if she's prone to engage with her students. If you fall on your face, or the professor stands on your head (or both), so what. No one will know unless you tell them. Pick yourself up and figure out how to do better next time. If you're having issues with your confidence (e.g. the "imposter syndrome"), remember that you'd not have been admitted to a program if the faculty didn't believe you had the potential to do the work.

IME, the ability to demonstrate that I had spent time thinking critically about the course materials always helped. Equally helpful was doing background reading/research as needed. That is, rather than going in to a professor's office to ask a question, I'd go in to discuss potential answers to the question.

Finally, I think knowing when to leave before being asked (explicitly or implicitly) is not a bad skill to have. (You will know you're doing all right when the professor continues the discussion and you ease back into your seat.)

HTH.

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Finally, I think knowing when to leave before being asked (explicitly or implicitly) is not a bad skill to have. (You will know you're doing all right when the professor continues the discussion and you ease back into your seat.)

Important skill to know in academia, particularly with conferences. At conferences, you really only have less than 5-10 minutes to talk with someone next to you. You need to show that you're engaged and have much to contribute to the discussion of the topic at hand. At conferences, when there is so much going on, you need to say "I gotta go, I have a session to attend" and leave them hanging, perhaps ask you to keep in touch with them via e-mail before you actually walk away.

It's also important to know how the professor *really* uses the office hours. Some can't stand them in a way that they actually do their work AT home so they may be happy to just have students come in just to chat (otherwise, they'll just surf the Internet or casually look over notes). Others (like my adviser) have to work in their offices and not elsewhere (especially if they hold a chair/director position). So, in a way, if you don't have anything super important to talk about, then don't stop by, or at least say what you need to say, settle the issue with the professor, and just go. Go to the office hours a few times, see what they're actually doing before you say hello, or just say "what are you up to?" if they greet you first- should give you an idea right there. They remember students who respect their time.

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