Opinion | Advice from a graduating senior — make friends with your professors

By Lynnette Tibbott, Staff Columnist

If I could give any advice to my fellow undergraduates, I’d say to speak in class and build rapport with your professors. 

It’s convenient to get lost in the world of percentages and letter grades. We prioritize the power of our GPAs. From a young age, the American education system engraves competition into our mindset, and we strive to be the best in class. Although this competition mindset is not inherently malicious, the need to outshine our peers encourages us to view other students as enemies instead of future connections, friends or as people.

Some of the best friends I’ve made at Pitt are the ones who have similar majors. In and outside of the classroom, we built a community where we give each other leverage to new opportunities or grants. 

The same can be said of professors. When we spend copious amounts of money on a college education, we have certain expectations. It took me a year to realize scraping by or flying under the radar was hurting me. Of course, I was always the first to speak in a class I was passionate about. But it took real self-development and awareness for me to branch out and vocalize my opinions, thoughts and even my own disputes and qualms during class discussions.

Professors love constructive discussion, and there’s no reason to not apply yourself in the classroom. After all, if you show up to class, you should be present. The only thing you’re wasting is your own money. And you’re missing an opportunity to set yourself apart. 

Go the extra mile to show the professor you’re focused instead of burying your face in your laptop screen. Take paper notes, show you’re interested in the topic and most importantly — give your opinions. 

When you’re sitting in a classroom with students consisting of every major under the sun, it’s easy to become lost in the mindset of “get the grade and get out.” It’s easy to forget what professors achieved to get where they are, and we associate them with the feeling of boredom from the monotony of our weekly schedules.

Not only did they accomplish eight or more years of grueling academia, but they have their own accolades, achievements and publications. They made a name for themselves in their fields, and they’re seasoned professionals. 

It’s easy to forget that when we know nothing about a professor aside from their name on the PeopleSoft site — when our main concern is to choose classes that fit best with our schedules and maybe check RateMyProfessor to find the most low-effort A.

But what do we gain from this? It’s comfortable to say we’re getting the maximum success for the minimum effort, but is this what we really want? Do we want a sheltered or complacent college career, where we might have a high GPA but nothing to show for it outside of the classroom? 

College isn’t just about your grades. It’s about the experience and the ability to foster connections with people who are where you want to be. 

When I stopped viewing my professors as unbreakable enigmas, I understood them more as people. Of course, you shouldn’t break professional boundaries, but I do want to stress the importance of incorporating a humanistic layer to your learning. If you realize that your professors have their own personality, you can learn from them as a professor and also as a person. They can give you sincere advice from lived experience. 

You spend an entire 15 weeks in a class, which gives you plenty of time to build a good rapport with your professor. And when it comes time to move on, you’ll have someone to vouch for you when you ask for letters of recommendation. You’ll need them one day. 

Some of my friends who are graduating seniors are struggling to find letters of recommendation from professors. They never got close to a professor, and they’re stumped on who they would ask for a recommendation or who to put down as a reference. Especially since some of them are trying to go to graduate school, this becomes a pivotal setback. 

Their one regret? Not growing closer to a professor when they had the opportunity. As a first-year or even as a sophomore, you should prioritize making professors your friends while you have time. The truth is, four years fly by faster than you can imagine. Approach every semester with a goal in mind to foster at least one friendship with a professor. 

When I asked my professors to write me letters of recommendation for graduate school applications, I felt relieved. Not only did they agree to write the letters, but they told me how ecstatic they were to help. I was genuine, honest and opinionated in class, and those traits made me memorable to my professors. More so, they encouraged me to ask them for anything in the future. 

We get lost trying to create a good impression with our professors, but we can’t forget they want to make a lasting impression on us, too. Going the extra mile and thanking them for what you learned in their class has a major impact on them, too. They genuinely appreciate hearing that their class mattered to you. Professors teach because they want to share their knowledge, wisdom and experience. 

When you make an effort to show a professor you care or take interest in them or their work, you’ll likely make a professional friend for life. Stop viewing class as a chore, and stop imagining your professors as people who want to bring your grade down. 

In reality, they want the best for you, and they want to help you help yourself. Create a symbiotic relationship with them in which you both benefit — show them your opinions and interest and treat them as a person instead of just a professor. In return, they’ll never forget you.

Grades come and go, but the connections you make in college are forever. 

Lynnette Tibbott primarily writes about topics in the sciences and humanities. Write to her at [email protected]