Princeton is a wonderful place. Among all the elements that make this university great, in my opinion, two stand out: the students and the professors. Students come from different backgrounds, with all sorts of fabulous experiences. And, in departments across campus, we have so many valuable professors – who are world-renowned in their respective fields – that make this place so amazing.
But, there sometimes tends to be a divide between these two important elements. In my encounters with my peers, I have often noticed that undergraduates find professors “intimidating” to reach. One of my friends even told me once that “I think my professor’s time is too valuable to be wasted on me.”
As a first-year student, I found the work of the professors in all of my classes very fascinating. But I was perhaps too shy to reach out to them to learn more about their work. What changed the game for me was that my residential college, Rocky, had organized a “Take your professor to dinner” night. Since it was a structured program planned by the college, it made it much easier for me to invite a professor for dinner. And I did. I invited my chemistry professor, and it turned out to be one of the best decisions I have made at Princeton so far. In fact, to this day, he is still an amazing mentor for me.
Amongst countless positive outcomes that can come out of a “friendly” conversation with your professor, I find there to be two main key takeaways that strike me the most: career insight and life wisdom.
Professors have reached their high academic standing through years of working in a field. So, they know a lot about different career paths that are out there. They might tell you about how they got to where they are today, and that might inspire you to choose a specific career path. Also, if you get lucky, they might also offer you a position in their lab, or connect you with valuable resources that will foster your academic standing.
Nevertheless, professors are also humans with lots of colorful life experiences. They might tell you about the adventurous side of their lives – the one you do not necessarily hear about during lecture – or how they got through the stressful years of graduate school. Lots of priceless stories that you can only hear if you have a one-on-one, friendly conversation with your professor.
So, if you are interested in learning more about one or more of your professors, send them an email that looks something like this:
Dear Professor [insert the name of your professor],
I hope you are having a pleasant day. My name is [insert your full name], and I am a student in your [insert the class name/code] class. [Here state why you are interested in meeting with them. For example, say: I am very interested in learning more about the research done at your lab on [insert the specific topic their lab works on]]. I was wondering if you would be available for a meeting sometime this upcoming week. I would be delighted to meet you.
[insert your first name]
It’s that simple!
Then, they either suggest that you meet at their office, or they ask you if you had a specific plan in mind. If they do the latter, invite them for a meal at one of the dining halls. You can even take advantage of the Princeton Home Dining program, which allows you to invite professors for a coffee or a meal covered by the University. Another great opportunity to connect!
After your meeting with the professor, it is also a good idea to send them a follow-up email, thanking them for their time. That way, you will stand-out as a respectful student, and it also conveys the message that the meeting was actually meaningful for you.
Princeton professors are amazing to interact with, so interact with them. Take this blog post as a sign to reach out to your favorite professor, and invite them for a friendly conversation. You won’t regret it.
— Mahya Fazel-Zarandi, Natural Sciences Correspondent