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Back to School: Talk to Your Professor!

Back to School: Talk to Your Professor!

Talk to Your Professor!

    For university students around the US it’s time to go back to school, or go for the first time for freshmen. European and other students might have a while before the next school year starts up, but this advice is for them, too.

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    Talk to your professors!

    In one of my earliest posts here at Lifehack, I explained how to talk to a professor – today, I want to talk about why you should talk with your professors.

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    You know that word “collegiality”? “Colleague”? What about “college”? OK, just testing with that last one. Anyway, they’re all words that describe a sense of community, a sense of people working together towards a common goal. That’s what college is about – working together, both with other students and professors, towards the goal of increasing both your own knowledge and the world’s total store of knowledge.

    It’s in that spirit that I’m telling you, talk to your professors. Approach them after class, visit them during their office hours, drop them an email – just open a channel of communication.

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    I hear you asking, “What’s in it for me?” Well, if the higher calling of collegiality doesn’t quite move you, maybe some of these reasons will:

    1. Professors know lots of people in your chosen discipline. A lot of professors are well-connected with people at other universities, as well as in government and in the private sector. They can often give you a leg up on summer internships, post-college jobs, and events where you can network.
    2. Professors have lots of students and you’re just one name among many. I teach about 150 students a semester, and I’m lucky – I have friends at other schools who teach 800-1000 or more students every semester. Making personal contact outside of class can help your professors get to know you as more than just a name and student ID number – and though it might not be entirely fair, that can help you in terms of grading, feedback on assignments, and the inside track on research projects.
    3. Professors write letters of recommendation. Whether you’re applying for a scholarship, heading to graduate school, or trying to get your dream job, having a reference letter from a professor who knows you well can be a huge benefit – especially if someone on the scholarship committee, graduate admissions board, or hiring committee knows who they are.
    4. Professors know the literature in your field. If you’re looking to delve further into some aspect of your major, put together a research paper, or just differentiate yourself from your fellow classmates, a professor can be a great help in directing you to books, articles, films, even artwork you might want to check out.
    5. Professors are frequently asked to recommend students for special honors. I get a number of notices of scholarships, leadership awards, and other honors every year, asking me to recommend students of mine who qualify. If I don’t know you, I don’t recommend you.
    6. Professors know the various career paths in your field. No small number of students approach graduation every year with no idea of what they should, could, or want to do next. Most students pick majors they’re interested in, with no clear sense of what they could actually do with their degree. Whether it’s grad school, a non-profit job, or even freelancing, a professor can help you understand the potential of your degree.
    7. Professors are interesting people. At the risk of tooting my own horn, can I just say that we professors aren’t entirely without certain conversational abilities? We’ve often led exciting, even adventurous lives, and just as often have amassed a thorough knowledge not just of our chosen disciplines but of many areas of knowledge. If you’re in school out of a love of learning, your professor can be quite an encouragement!
    8. Professors can help straighten out administrative snafus. I put this last because often, we professors are just as baffled by the various Catch-22s and Kafka-esque procedures that make up college administrations as you are. But once in a while, we do know a thing or two about how to get things done on campus – it’s always worth a shot.

    Most of all, you should talk to your professors because it’s what we’re there for. There’s a reason college isn’t just a stack of books and a reading list – the idea isn’t to memorize a bunch of other people’s ideas but to work with the people around you to develop your own.

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    You don’t need to have anything lofty to say or ask to approach your professors. Just dropping by their office during office hours and saying “Hi, I’m in your history [or whatever] class and I just wanted to introduce myself” can be a fine way to get the ball rolling. I owe my entire major, anthropology, to just that – a couple of conversations with the anthropology professor at my community college. By peeking “behind the scenes” a little, as it were, I saw a richer, deeper field than my introductory classes might have suggested, which led me to do some independent reading, which led me to major in anthropology. That same professor wrote a letter of reference for my transfer to a UC school, and then again for my graduate school applications.

    So, with the semester just begun or about to begin, that’s your first assignment, from Professor Lifehack: pick at least one of your professors and introduce yourself. You might well be surprised at the reception you get. Remember, most of us chose this job because we like interacting with students – you’ll be doing your prof a favor as much as yourself!

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    Last Updated on June 19, 2019

    12 Signs You Are A Lifelong Learner

    12 Signs You Are A Lifelong Learner

    Formal education is something everyone has to go through to a certain degree, and the knowledge it offers isn’t always that practical in real life. Life long learning is how you improve as a person, bit by bit and day by day.

    Life long learners recognize the importance and joy of growth so they never settle for what they currently know and always seek for improvement.

    Here are 12 signs these life long learners have in common – see how many of them you recognize in yourself.

    1. They read on a daily basis.

    Whatever problem or dilemma you currently face, there’s definitely at least one decent book that discusses it and presents a variety of solutions.

    Reading is a great way to open up new horizons, train your brain and revolutionize your life. I can’t even count how many times books completely transformed the way I view the world, and it’s always a change for the better. Through reading, you can connect with successful people and learn from the lessons they share.

    Life long learners love to get lost in books and do it regularly. Bill Gates knows that reading matters a lot; on his personal blog, he reviews plenty of game-changing books.

    Due to technology, you can access a bookshelf of the wealthiest entrepreneur on this planet.

    2. They attend various courses.

    Whether it’s online or offline, there are countless courses you can participate in without spending a dime on it. These are great opportunities to connect with clever and like-minded people and learn from them.

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    Because of the advanced technology, you can now gain knowledge from online programs, starting from coding through self-improvement to programs from top universities.

    There are literally endless ways to thrive. What life long learners have in common is squeezing as much as possible out of these opportunities.

    3. They seek opportunities to grow.

    Instead of spending your free time laying on the couch and watching TV, you prefer doing something creative and practical. You know every wasted minute is gone forever.

    That’s why you’d rather practice your language skills with a native-speaker you’ve met, engage in local meet up or attend a class that teaches something you always wanted to learn.

    Life long learners stay up-to-date with growth opportunities in their areas and participate in them frequently.

    4. They take care of their bodies.

    “Physical fitness is not only one of the most important keys to a healthy body, it is the basis of dynamic and creative intellectual activity.” — John F. Kennedy

    A clever mind combined with a body in a great condition is the best asset you can have. Our bodies were designed to run, walk, jump, swim, lift and much more. Leading a sedentary lifestyle harms both your physical and mental sphere.

    Life long learners know the body is your temple. In order to make it flourish for as long as possible, they train regularly, move a lot and eat healthy.

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    5. They have diverse passions.

    Among Steve Jobs’ wise quotes, there’s one I like especially. It’s about connecting the dots:

    “You can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backward. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future.” — Steve Jobs

    Each dot is some event or skill in your life, and it’s only when you go through these elements that you know how to combine them into something great.

    Having a variety of passions indicates that you love to progress. By practicing different skills, you give yourself an advantage over the rest of the people. During hard times, you are more likely to to act intelligently and solve your problems with less effort.

    6. They love making progress.

    If behind the efforts, there is passion and a deep desire to grow, your chances of success are way higher, compared to when you are forced to learn.

    Life long learners love to experience the constant growth and improvement. The breakthrough moments help them to notice the impressive change that took place because of the learning process. Any milestone serves as a driving force for further headway.

    7. They challenge themselves with specific goals.

    In order to keep growing, you clearly define your goals. Smart goal setting is one of the tools to ensure constant growth.

    Since you love challenges, a difficult goal doesn’t scare you. Quite the opposite, it keeps you motivated and engaged.

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    Research showed that precise and ambitious goals increase the performance of an individual. As we already agreed, life long learners are people who care about their performance, hence they never stop improving.

    8. They embrace change.

    A complete change can lead to incredible results. This is especially visible on the example of successful companies.

    Oftentimes, it’s that transformation which created space for their so-called overnight success. Twitter was originally created as an internal service to serve Odeo employees. Currently, it has over 300 million monthly active users and is considered the second biggest social network.

    As a life long learner, you know a change can lead to extraordinary results so you welcome it and stay open minded about making a shift.

    9. They believe it’s never too late to start something.

    Some people tend to think after a certain age, they are no longer allowed to start something and become successful. The truth is, it’s just a lame excuse not to leave the comfort zone.

    Opposite to common misconceptions, there’s no wrong age to begin something. Henry Ford was 45 when he invented the Ford Model T car, which is considered as the first affordable automobile.

    Sure, for some domains like becoming a professional athlete, starting early is required. However, to learn and improve for its own sake, you are never too old.

    10. Their attitude to getting better is contagious.

    “We now accept the fact that learning is a life long process of keeping abreast of change. And the most pressing task is to teach people how to learn.” — Peter Drucker

    There’s nothing better than to see your surroundings getting involved in what you actively participate in. Oftentimes, the best way to achieve that is to inspire them and be the example. As Gandhi would say, you need to be the change you want to see in the world.

    As a life long learner, you are extremely passionate about the constant growth and people around you can sense that positive attitude. As a result, they start acting similarly.

    11. They leave their comfort zone.

    Is it really better to step out of your comfort zone? The answer is always yes.

    You always embrace discomfort as you know the path to success leads through hardship and countless obstacles. Instead of being afraid of facing them, you challenge yourself to overcome more and more difficult handicaps.

    Every time you get out of your comfort zone, regardless whether you win or fail, you learn something new. That’s the part you love the most!

    12. They never settle down.

    “Knowledge is exploding, so you need to commit yourself to a plan for life long learning.” — Don Tapscott

    A sense of being clever enough is something you don’t experience. Without a doubt, you appreciate what you already know, but that’s never a reason to stop. You just know once you stop learning, you lose the amazing privilege humans have, namely an ability to a never-ending intellectual development.

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    Featured photo credit: Christin Hume via unsplash.com

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