Something incredible happened the other day in class here at University College London (UCL). My psychology professor was lecturing on the topic of attention and awareness when, suddenly, a familiar name appeared on the screen: Matthew Botvinick, Professor of Psychology at Princeton University! I was struck with surprise, amazement, and joy at seeing his name on the board, feeling fortunate to have taken a neuroscience course with him the year before. A sense of pride washed over me as my European classmates & I learned about one of Professor Botvinick’s experimental studies on conflict monitoring. However, I also felt a wave of regret. Why had I not known about this study before? Shouldn’t I, a student in the Psychology Department at Princeton, know about the amazing research that my professor had conducted?
Most students at Princeton are well aware of the fact that the school’s faculty members are highly accomplished. However, while the merits of some professors are published by CNN on a daily basis, the accomplishments of other professors are less publicized. Nonetheless, many of the individuals who stand before us each and every day have and continue to produce incredible research that is highly regarded around the world.
Talk to your professors.College students are frequently given this age-old advice, which seems to exist as a panacea for low grades, a need for recommendation letters, a desire for intelligent conversation, and the like. However, most students will be quick to inform you that talking to professors is easier said than done. Whether held back by fear of inadequacy, intimidation, or just pure laziness, many students shy away from interacting with their educators. Unfortunately, this fear prevents students from obtaining amazing opportunities, especially ones related to conducting research.
As a learning consultant at Princeton’s McGraw Center for Teaching and Learning, I’ve discussed the difficulty of talking to professors with many of my peers. Most express a strong desire to engage their professors in conversation, but are unsure of what to say, or how to say it. While I’m no expert on perfecting the verbalization skills necessary to score a perfect relationship with professors, I have had some experiences where simply putting myself out there has made a world of difference for my Princeton career.