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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 January 15, 2021

    7 Ways To Have More Confident Body Language

    7 Ways To Have More Confident Body Language

    The popular idiomatic saying that “actions speak louder than words” has been around for centuries, but even to this day, most people struggle with at least one area of nonverbal communication. Consequently, many of us aspire to have more confident body language but don’t have the knowledge and tools necessary to change what are largely unconscious behaviors.

    Given that others’ perceptions of our competence and confidence are predominantly influenced by what we do with our faces and bodies, it’s important to develop greater self-awareness and consciously practice better posture, stance, eye contact, facial expressions, hand movements, and other aspects of body language.

    Posture

    First things first: how is your posture? Let’s start with a quick self-assessment of your body.

    • Are your shoulders slumped over or rolled back in an upright posture?
    • When you stand up, do you evenly distribute your weight or lean excessively to one side?
    • Does your natural stance place your feet relatively shoulder-width apart or are your feet and legs close together in a closed-off position?
    • When you sit, does your lower back protrude out in a slumped position or maintain a straight, spine-friendly posture in your seat?

    All of these are important considerations to make when evaluating and improving your posture and stance, which will lead to more confident body language over time. If you routinely struggle with maintaining good posture, consider buying a posture trainer/corrector, consulting a chiropractor or physical therapist, stretching daily, and strengthening both your core and back muscles.

    Facial Expressions

    Are you prone to any of the following in personal or professional settings?

    • Bruxism (tight, clenched jaw or grinding teeth)
    • Frowning and/or furrowing brows
    • Avoiding direct eye contact and/or staring at the ground

    If you answered “yes” to any of these, then let’s start by examining various ways in which you can project confident body language through your facial expressions.

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    1. Understand How Others Perceive Your Facial Expressions

    A December 2020 study by UC Berkeley and Google researchers utilized a deep neural network to analyze facial expressions in six million YouTube clips representing people from over 140 countries. The study found that, despite socio-cultural differences, people around the world tended to use about 70% of the same facial expressions in response to different emotional stimuli and situations.[1]

    The study’s researchers also published a fascinating interactive map to demonstrate how their machine learning technology assessed various facial expressions and determined subtle differences in emotional responses.

    This study highlights the social importance of facial expressions because whether or not we’re consciously aware of them—by gazing into a mirror or your screen on a video conferencing platform—how we present our faces to others can have tremendous impacts on their perceptions of us, our confidence, and our emotional states. This awareness is the essential first step towards

    2. Relax Your Face

    New research on bruxism and facial tension found the stresses and anxieties of Covid-19 lockdowns led to considerable increases in orofacial pain, jaw-clenching, and teeth grinding, particularly among women.[2]

    The National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research estimates that more than 10 million Americans alone have temporomandibular joint dysfunction (TMJ syndrome), and facial tension can lead to other complications such as insomnia, wrinkles, dry skin, and dark, puffy bags under your eyes.[3])

    To avoid these unpleasant outcomes, start practicing progressive muscle relaxation techniques and taking breaks more frequently throughout the day to moderate facial tension.[4] You should also try out some biofeedback techniques to enhance your awareness of involuntary bodily processes like facial tension and achieve more confident body language as a result.[5]

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    3. Improve Your Eye Contact

    Did you know there’s an entire subfield of kinesic communication research dedicated to eye movements and behaviors called oculesics?[6] It refers to various communication behaviors including direct eye contact, averting one’s gaze, pupil dilation/constriction, and even frequency of blinking. All of these qualities can shape how other people perceive you, which means that eye contact is yet another area of nonverbal body language that we should be more mindful of in social interactions.

    The ideal type (direct/indirect) and duration of eye contact depends on a variety of factors, such as cultural setting, differences in power/authority/age between the parties involved, and communication context. Research has shown that differences in the effects of eye contact are particularly prominent when comparing East Asian and Western European/North American cultures.[7]

    To improve your eye contact with others, strive to maintain consistent contact for at least 3 to 4 seconds at a time, consciously consider where you’re looking while listening to someone else, and practice eye contact as much as possible (as strange as this may seem in the beginning, it’s the best way to improve).

    3. Smile More

    There are many benefits to smiling and laughing, and when it comes to working on more confident body language, this is an area that should be fun, low-stakes, and relatively stress-free.

    Smiling is associated with the “happiness chemical” dopamine and the mood-stabilizing hormone, serotonin. Many empirical studies have shown that smiling generally leads to positive outcomes for the person smiling, and further research has shown that smiling can influence listeners’ perceptions of our confidence and trustworthiness as well.

    4. Hand Gestures

    Similar to facial expressions and posture, what you do with your hands while speaking or listening in a conversation can significantly influence others’ perceptions of you in positive or negative ways.

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    It’s undoubtedly challenging to consciously account for all of your nonverbal signals while simultaneously trying to stay engaged with the verbal part of the discussion, but putting in the effort to develop more bodily awareness now will make it much easier to unconsciously project more confident body language later on.

    5. Enhance Your Handshake

    In the article, “An Anthropology of the Handshake,” University of Copenhagen social anthropology professor Bjarke Oxlund assessed the future of handshaking in wake of the Covid-19 pandemic:[8]

    “Handshakes not only vary in function and meaning but do so according to social context, situation and scale. . . a public discussion should ensue on the advantages and disadvantages of holding on to the tradition of shaking hands as the conventional gesture of greeting and leave-taking in a variety of circumstances.”

    It’s too early to determine some of the ways in which Covid-19 has permanently changed our social norms and professional etiquette standards, but it’s reasonable to assume that handshaking may retain its importance in American society even after this pandemic. To practice more confident body language in the meantime, the video on the science of the perfect handshake below explains what you need to know.

    6. Complement Your Verbals With Hand Gestures

    As you know by now, confident communication involves so much more than simply smiling more or sounding like you know what you’re talking about. What you do with your hands can be particularly influential in how others perceive you, whether you’re fidgeting with an object, clenching your fists, hiding your hands in your pockets, or calmly gesturing to emphasize important points you’re discussing.

    Social psychology researchers have found that “iconic gestures”—hand movements that appear to be meaningfully related to the speaker’s verbal content—can have profound impacts on listeners’ information retention. In other words, people are more likely to engage with you and remember more of what you said when you speak with complementary hand gestures instead of just your voice.[9]

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    Further research on hand gestures has shown that even your choice of the left or right hand for gesturing can influence your ability to clearly convey information to listeners, which supports the notion that more confident body language is readily achievable through greater self-awareness and deliberate nonverbal actions.[10]

    Final Takeaways

    Developing better posture, enhancing your facial expressiveness, and practicing hand gestures can vastly improve your communication with other people. At first, it will be challenging to consciously practice nonverbal behaviors that many of us are accustomed to performing daily without thinking about them.

    If you ever feel discouraged, however, remember that there’s no downside to consistently putting in just a little more time and effort to increase your bodily awareness. With the tips and strategies above, you’ll be well on your way to embracing more confident body language and amplifying others’ perceptions of you in no time.

    More Tips on How to Develop a Confident Body Language

    Featured photo credit: Maria Lupan via unsplash.com

    Reference

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