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Advice for Students: How to Talk to Professors

Advice for Students: How to Talk to Professors

A while back, I recommended that students get to know their professors. I realize, though, that many students are intimidated or put off by their professors. This is especially so when students need something — a favor, special help with an assignment, a second chance on a test.

It doesn’t need to be that way. Professors are people, just like everyone else, and if you approach your professors with the same basic respect and decency you offer everyone else you interact with, you’ll probably find that they react with the same.

There are, though, a few things you should keep in mind when you talk to your professors, especially if you’re going to be asking for a particular favor:

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  • Call them by the right title. A “Doctor” is someone with a PhD; not all professors have a PhD. “Professor” is usually appropriate, unless you’ve been told otherwise. I prefer to be called by my first name, and I make that point clearly on the first day of class; if your professor hasn’t said anything about this, you’re better off not using their first name. If you’re totally unsure, a “Mr.” or “Ms.” Is usually fine. Do not use “Mrs.” unless the professor herself uses it; after 30 years of women making this point, it’s time to recognize that not all adult women are or want to be married.
  • Tell the truth. After the first couple of semesters of teaching, your average professor has pretty much heard it all. It’s a sad fact, but true nonetheless, that we grow pretty jaded and take all student excuses with a grain of salt. If a professor thinks s/he’s being played, they’re not going to respond very well to whatever request you have to make, so you might as well be honest. If you feel you absolutely must lie, at least make it a huge flaming whopper of a lie, so the professor can get a good laugh when they share it at the next faculty meeting.
  • Be prepared to do the work. If you’ve missed an assignment or a test or are falling behind in your reading, and you are seeking help to get caught up or a special dispensation to make up the assignment, you’d better be prepared to do the work — and generally under more difficult circumstances. I get the impression that a lot of students imagine I might just say “don’t worry about it, I’ll give you the points anyway” which, of course, is not going to happen.
  • Be clear and concise. Unless you’re paying a “social call”, get to the point quickly: tell your prof what you need or want and be done with it. Don’t spend 30 minutes explaining your childhood and family arrangements and how hard it is getting a job with a few felony convictions on your record and blah blah blah for a 10-point assignment. Simply say “Professor, I missed an assignment, can I make it up? Can I do something else?”
  • Pay social calls. Your professor is probably required by school policy to be in his or her office and available to students for a set number of hours per week. On top of that, most professors like talking to students — it’s part of the reason we took the job. Chances are, though, that s/he spends the majority of her or his office hours playing Minesweeper and reading email, because students almost never drop in on her. Pay your professor a visit or two, just to talk. Tell him or her about the work you’re interested in or about problems you’re having (but remember, a professor is not a therapist; they’ll talk about whatever you want, but may not be able to offer professional advice). Build relationships with your professors — at the very least, they’ll remember you when you call up three years later asking for a reference letter.
  • Do not, under any circumstances, flirt. The days of professors marrying their promising students are long, long gone. Nowadays, even the hint of favoritism can ruin a professor’s career — let alone any actual relationship-type behavior. Unless your professor is a total sleazebag, any sign of flirtation will make him or her shut down immediately. They simply cannot risk it.
    • Note: Many students develop crushes on their professors. They do not respond much to the argument that a professor’s position and authority makes any romantic response on their part problematic at best; most college students feel they are adults and able to make their own decisions, and that there is therefore nothing all that improper about a relationship between a prof and a student. And they’re right: they are adults and they are capable of making their own decisions, and should have the good sense therefore to leave their professors alone. It may well be the case that a professor, being human, slips up — maybe he’s getting a divorce or just broke up with her boyfriend or any number of circumstances, and a student comes along and seems to find them interesting and attractive and all that. This transgression may cost them their jobs and the careers they’ve worked hard to build. And in the end, all crushes pass; professors, who seem so competent and intriguing in their classrooms, turn out to be normal people with normal people’s faults outside the classroom, and the attraction fades. So give it a pass; keep your relationship with your professors friendly but not too friendly.
  • Prepare for disappointment. Depending on how far you’ve let your studies slide, there might not be anything a professor can do and still be fair to the rest of her or his students. Or it might not be technically possible: arranging make-up tests, for example, is difficult. Your prof probably spent hours writing his or her syllabus, and probably spent another hour explaining it to you at the beginning of the class, so he or she’s got a lot invested in the rules it explains. Too many students try to bend or break the rules for her or him to be easily swayed from them. They especially hate it when people don’t do an assignment and then ask for a way to make it up; it throws off our whole “rhythm” to read an assignment from 6 weeks ago. So often a professor won’t or can’t help you. Your only option might be to shift into damage control, see what you can do, and ask honestly if you should continue in the class. And learn from your failure; take the class again and do it right.
  • Hold the threats. Professors get threatened with lawsuits a lot, and even threats of physical violence are not unheard of when things don’t go a student’s way. Obviously, professors aren’t going to respond very well to threats. On top of that, most professors have pretty good relationships with their departments and superiors, which means they know that baseless accusations and going over their heads isn’t going to get a student very far. If you find yourself needing to resort to threats, chances are you probably don’t have much of a reason for a professor to help you out, and you should start thinking about how to do better next time.

As I said, most professors will respond in kind if you treat them openly and decently. We didn’t become professors because we wanted to make students’ lives miserable (well, most of us, anyway…). We became professors out of a passion for our disciplines and a desire to share our knowledge with you. As a general rule, professors respect commitment and genuine curiosity, and will go out of their way to help if they feel that you are honestly interested in doing well. On the other hand, professors get to feeling pretty used by the numerous students who work hard only at gaming the system, and if they feel you’re one of those students, they’re not likely to bend very far to make life easier for you.

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Good luck!

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Last Updated on August 19, 2019

How to Be True to Yourself and Live the Life You Want

How to Be True to Yourself and Live the Life You Want

We live in a world that constantly tells us what to do, how to act, what to be. Knowing how to be true to yourself and live the life you want can be a challenge.

When someone asks how we are, we assume that the person does not mean the question sincerely, for it would lead to an in depth conversation. So telling them that you are good or fine, even if you’re not, is the usual answer.

In an ideal world, we would stop and truly listen. We wouldn’t be afraid to be ourselves. Instead, when we answer about how we are doing, our mask, the persona we show the world, tightens. Sometimes even more so than it might have been before. Eventually, it becomes hard to take off, even when you’re alone.

Imagine a world where we asked how someone was doing and they really told us. Imagine a world where there were no masks, only transparency when we talked to one another.

If you want to live in a world that celebrates who you are, mistakes and all, take off the mask. It doesn’t mean you have to be positive or fine all the time.

According to a Danish psychologist, Svend Brinkman, we expect each other to be happy and fine every second, and we expect it of ourselves. And that “has a dark side.”[1] Positive psychology can have its perks but not at the expense at hiding how you truly feel in order to remain seemingly positive to others.

No one can feel positive all the time and yet, that is what our culture teaches us to embrace. We have to unlearn this. That said, telling others you are ‘“fine”’ all the time is actually detrimental to your wellbeing, because it stops you from being assertive, from being authentic or your truest self.

When you acknowledge a feeling, it leads you to the problem that’s causing that feeling; and once you identify the problem, you can find a solution to it. When you hide that feeling, you stuff it way down so no one can help you.You can’t even help yourself.

Feelings are there for one reason: to be felt. That doesn’t mean you have to act on that feeling. It just means that you start the process of problem solving so you can live the life you want.

1. Embrace Your Vulnerability

When you are your true self, you can better self-advocate or stand up for what you need. Your self-expression matters, and you should value your voice. It’s okay to need things, it’s okay to speak up, and it’s okay not to be okay.

Telling someone you are simply “fine” when you are not, does your story and your journey a great disservice. Being true to yourself entails embracing all aspects of your existence.

When you bring your whole self to the table, there is nothing that you can’t beat. Here’re 7 benefits of being vulnerable you should learn.

Can you take off the mask? This is the toughest thing anyone can do. We have learned to wait until we are safe before we start to be authentic.

In relationships especially, this can be hard. Some people avoid vulnerability at any cost. And in our relationship with ourselves, we can look in the mirror and immediately put on the mask.

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It all starts with your story. You have been on your own unique journey. That journey has led you here, to the person you are today. You have to be unafraid, and embrace all aspects of that journey.

You should seek to thrive, not just survive. That means you do not have to compete or compare yourself with anyone.

Authenticity means you are enough. It’s enough to be who you are to get what you want.

What if for the first time ever, you were real? What if you said what you wanted to say, did what you wanted to do, and didn’t apologize for it?

You were assertive, forthcoming in your opinions or actions to stand for what is right for you, (rather than being passive or aggressive) in doing so. You didn’t let things get to you. You knew you had something special to offer.

That’s where we all should be.

So, answer me this:

How are you, really?

And know that no matter the answer, you should still be accepted.

Bravery is in the understanding that you still may not be accepted for your truth.

Bravery is knowing you matter even when others say that you do not.

Bravery is believing in yourself when all evidence counters doing so (i.e. past failures or losses)

Bravery is in being vulnerable while knowing vulnerability is a sign of strength.

It’s taking control.

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2. Choose Your Attitude in Adversity

You can take control of your destiny and live the life you want by being true to yourself. You can start anytime. You can start today.

You can start with one day at a time, just facing what happens that day. Most of us get overwhelmed when faced with the prospect of a big change. Even if the only thing we change is our attitude.

In one instant, you can become a different person with a change of attitude. When you take control of your attitude, you become able to better understand what is around you. This allows you to move forward.

Originally, you may have had a life plan. It could have started when you were little; you were hoping to become a mermaid, doctor, astronaut or all three when you grew up. You were hoping to be someone. You were hoping to be remembered.

You can still dream those dreams, but eventually reality sets in. Obstacles and struggles arise. You set on a different path when the last one didn’t work out. You think of all the “shoulds” in your life in living the life you want. You should be doing this…should be doing that…

Clayton Barbeau, psychologist, coined the term “shoulding yourself.’[2] When we are set on one path and find ourselves doing something different. It becomes all the things you should be doing rather than seeing the opportunities right in front of you.

But in all this disarray, did you lose sight of the real you?

It may be in our perceived failures and blunders that we lose sight of who we are, because we try to maintain position and status.

In being who we really are and achieving what we really want, we need to be resilient: How to Build Resilience to Face What Life Throws at You

It means that we do not see all possibilities of what might happen, but must trust ourselves to begin again, and continue to build the life we want. In the face of adversity, you must choose your attitude.

Can attitude overcome adversity? It certainly helps. While seeking to be true to yourself and live the life you want, you will have to face a fact:

Change will happen.

Whether that change is good or bad is unique to each person and their perspective.

You might have to start over, once, twice, a few times. It doesn’t mean that everything will be okay, but that you will be okay. What remains or should remain is the true you. When you’ve lost sight of that, you’ve lost sight of everything.

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And then, you rebuild. Moment after moment, day after day. We all have a choice, and in this moment, that matters.

You can choose to have a positive attitude, seeing the silver lining in each situation and, where there is none, the potential for one. Maybe that silver lining is you and what you will do with the situation. How will you use it for something good?

That’s how you can tap into yourself and your power. Sometimes it happens by accident, sometimes on purpose. It can happen when we aren’t even looking for it, or it can be your only focus. Everyone gets there differently.

You can rise, or you can remain. Your choice.

When the worst happens, you can rely on your authenticity to pull you through. That’s because Self Advocacy, speaking up to let others know what you need, is part of finding the real you.

There is nothing wrong with asking for help. Or sometimes, helping others can help us deal with the pain of a hurtful situation. You decide how you’re going to help others, and suddenly, you become your best self.

3. Do What Makes You Happy When No One’s Looking

Being the best version of you has nothing to do with your success or your status. It has everything to do with your Character, what you do when no one’s looking.

In order to create the life you want, you have to be the person you want to be. Faking it till you make it is just a way to white knuckle it through your journey. You have the fire inside of you to make things right, to put the pieces together, to live authentically. And Character is how you get there.

If you fall down and you help another up while you’re down there, it’s like you rise twice.

Along with attitude, your character is about the choices you make rather than what happens to you.

Yes, it’s about doing the right thing even when obstacles seem insurmountable.  It’s about using that mountain you’ve been given to show others it can be moved.  It’s about being unapologetically you, taking control, choosing your attitude in adversity and being the best version of you to create the life you want.

How do you know what you really want? Is it truly status or success?

Unfortunately, these things do not always bring happiness. And aspects of our image or “performance driven existence” may not achieve satisfaction. Materialism is part of our refusal to accept ourselves as enough. All the things we use to repress our true selves are about being enough.

“Enoughness” is what we truly seek, but ego gets in the way.

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Ego is the perception of self as outer worth. It’s not REAL self worth.

Ego represses our true self with a new self— the self of chasing ‘“Am I ever enough?”’ questions. And instead of filling our true selves with self-love and acceptance, when we “should ourselves” and chase “enoughness,” we feed the ego or our image.

It’s important to realize YOU ARE ENOUGH, without all the material trappings.

Stanford psychologist Meagan O’Reilly describes the damage of not thinking we are enough. One of her tactics for combating this is to complete the sentence,[3]

“If I believed I were already enough, I’d ____”

What would you do if you felt you were enough?

By believing you are enough, you can live the life you want.

So many fake it to try to get there, and they end up losing themselves when they lose more and more touch with their Authenticity.

Final Thoughts

By being yourself, you are being brave. By acknowledging all you can be, you tell the universe that you can until you believe it too. The steps are easy, and you are worth it. All of it is about the purpose you are leading and the passion that is your fuel.

Being true to yourself is all about mastering how to live life authentically rather than faking or forcing it. Having the life you want (and deserve) is about being trusting in yourself and the purpose you are living for. Both need passion behind it, fueling it each second, or you will experience burn out.

When you are authentic, you can call the road you walk your own. When you live your life for you and not just the results of all your actions (faking it till you make it), you can let go of what you don’t need. This clarifies and pushes purpose to you, living for something that is greater than you.

You will find that making decisions based on what will actually achieve your goals, will help you attain the life you want, and your success with each step, will allow you to enjoy the process. Good luck!

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Featured photo credit: Ariana Prestes via unsplash.com

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