Professors are People Too

Written by

We often forget (but Bwog often likes to remind us) that the most valuable resources at Columbia are our professors. For many, professors seem distant and de-humanized; just that guy or gal standing at the front of the class pontificating about some strange subject for an hour and fifteen minutes. At the same time, we know that these people are at the forefront of their fields and obviously got to the front of the lecture hall by doing something. The Center for Student Advising sought to alter this misconception with a brief panel session on “How to Work with Your Professors.” Bwog’s resident professor enthusiast, Marcus Levine, gave us the scoop.

How can we alleviate the social awkwardness of approaching a professor for the first time? Once the hierarchical abyss has been crossed, it is easy and natural to form a relationship with a professor whose interests match our own, but many of us (particularly the doe-eyed freshpeople) are paralyzed by the thought of approaching the mythic figures that make up the Columbia faculty.  It would hardly seem intuitive that this dissonance could be resolved by the pedantic, disingenuous panel discussions that plagued NSOP. How could human connections possibly come out of a sterilized and scripted environment? Yet the Center for Student Advising sought to do just that with their surprisingly genuine panel Friday afternoon on “How to Work with Your Professors.”

The event took the generic form of a Q&A session: three advising Deans, who are also professors, answered various questions from both the audience and a moderator, with the moderator prompting questions that had been e-mailed in prior to the event whenever the audience had nothing to ask. Most of the questions dealt with very pragmatic issues such as how to address a professor, when is it appropriate to ask for a letter of recommendation, and how to stay in touch with professors over the years.

While the questions varied somewhat in scope and seriousness, the general air of the panel’s responses all pointed to a simple truth. Professors have their quirks and interests just like anyone else; those interests are significantly more academic than most, but all they really want from you is to be curious about what they spend their entire lives studying. One of the panelists pointed out, “academia is not a nine to five job, it is twenty-four seven.” As professors, these people are probing the depths of human knowledge all of the time with the pure power of their intellect. That said, they still go out with their friends, they still brush their teeth in the morning, they still get up and walk down the street every day, just like us.  It may be easy to forget that as they pick apart your term paper or derive the field equations for an n-dimensional space, but that does not mean we have reason to treat them as anything other than what they are: brilliant and often incredibly interesting people.

The kind of forced sociability we have all come to associate with these formulaic events was superseded in this case by a sense of mutual benefit. The panelists wanted to talk to the people they described, and in some sense, we want to be the people they envision. Their description was so intuitive and organic that one can’t imagine other professors don’t agree with the sample provided. As much as we may begrudge it, no student can argue that they don’t want to be treated in the same manner as their professors wish to be: as (albeit still developing) people.

Learning via Wikimedia Commons

Tags: , ,

1 Comment

  1. Renee Jacobi

    Great post! I know that even now as a senior certain professors seem very hard to approach. It is important to try to develop a relationship with them because it is more enjoyable to go to their class and easier to go to them if you ever do have a question. Thanks!

© 2006-2015 Blue and White Publishing Inc.