You’re sitting in the back of a giant lecture hall as a professor goes on about some theory. You’re taking good notes and you like her style, but you’ve never been to her office hours. And while she might remember your face, she definitely doesn’t know your name.
You just made a huge mistake.
It is easy to get caught up in the grind of grades and readings and lectures and labs. But when you let that take away time from getting to know a professor or teaching assistant, you’re only hurting yourself. Networking with your professors and TAs is critical to your success. And I’m not talking about a letter of recommendation either. This is real-world, professional networking with your instructors.
Networking isn’t just for grown-ups
You know networking is one key to getting a job in any professional field. But you may forget that the people teaching you have experience and connections of their own that can start you off right.
As a fellow student, I realize how busy and hectic the semester can get. But setting aside even 15 minutes to talk with a professor or TA is worth it. Not only will this be good for you as far as class and grades, but it can help you professionally.
My own personal experience is a great example. I have landed multiple jobs and internships through networking with my professors. Once they know your strengths and your work ethic, it is easy for them to pass your name along to their connections looking for a student to work with them.
Samantha Kurutz, a journalism major at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, got a job because she had gone to a TA for help with a previous job application. When the position was opening up, Samantha was at the top of the TA’s mind.
“Everyone tells you to go to office hours, but you don’t just have to talk about class. You can ask them about the program, your resume, grad school or even what classes to take, if they have time,” Kururtz said.
Talking once isn’t enough
It is important to have a sort of introductory meeting with your professors, so they know who you are. Go to their office hours and just introduce yourself and have a light conversation about your interests in and out of the course. But don’t just leave it at that.
To maintain a good relationship, visit their office hours more than once, especially if the class is large. If the class is smaller, make sure to interact with the professor regularly instead of being a wallflower. Connect with them on LinkedIn and ask them to endorse you (if they know you well enough).
When talking with your professors or TAs, tell them about your professional interests, whether that be company types, like an agency or newsroom, or more specific tasks, like editing or HTML coding. The more they know about your interests, the more likely they will think of you as a name to give when an opportunity comes their way.
Pat Hastings, a faculty associate in the UW-Madison School of Journalism and Mass Communication, says, “Speak up in class and let us see those areas in which you excel. Often, job opportunities come along, and that instructor can make sure that job plays to your strengths.”
Some instructors are also advisers in student organizations or other groups. Hastings suggests you join one of these and get a chance to work with them, aside from going to office hours.
You need to do more than ask for a letter of recommendation. You need to establish a professional connection with another person, just as you would any other professional you meet who you think could help you along the way. Only this connection is better because they know more than your name. They know your strengths and weaknesses.
The bottom line
Networking with your professors and TAs won’t just benefit you with potential opportunities or connections, it also will help you learn how to network. If the thought of talking to a professor is daunting, imagine trying to talk to a complete stranger with no obvious connection to you. This is a great opportunity to practice with someone you are already familiar with and is invested in your success.
Take advantage of your professors’ and TAs’ knowledge and connections. Kim L’Herault, a fellow journalism student at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, just landed an informational interview with a person she spotted on her professor’s LinkedIn profile. It’s important to know your professor, but also keep in mind the importance of who they know.
Practicing your networking skills with professors can help you build your confidence to network with other professionals and land you that job of your dreams.
And when it does, don’t forget to stay connected and help future students. Your own network will someday be the answer to someone else’s job search.
Lauren Simonis is a senior at the University of Wisconsin-Madison studying journalism and English. She is an intern for the EducationShift section at PBS MediaShift. Follow her on Twitter.