As I near the end of my undergraduate career, I have some advice to pass on to other students: make meaningful friendships with people who share your values and (at least some) interests, explore classes outside your comfort zone, and apply for cool Princeton funding opportunities that allow you to go abroad.
Nothing here is revolutionary — others will certainly tell you the same things during your time at Princeton — but neither is my biggest piece of advice: get to know your professors.
I’ve had somewhere between 20 and 30 professors over the course of my time here. And while I don’t know all of them equally well, I can certainly say I’ve made an effort. I try to go to office hours, and I never miss Take-Your-Professor-to-Dinner Night at Rocky.
This is in addition to, of course, participating in class and doing my best work, as we all do. Some say that this is all an effort to secure a letter of recommendation or a good grade — but getting to know the people who teach you is much more than that.
Before they are academics, professors are people — often particularly interesting ones. At Princeton, professors are people at the forefront of their fields, whether they be biology, French history, or economics. It’s hard to imagine this now, but we may never again have the opportunity to interact with so many brilliant people who are so generous with their time.
Developing personal relationships with professors offers a glimpse into a subject we might know little about — or, in my case, a glimpse into a subject I hope to spend the rest of my life studying.
Take-Your-Professor-to-Dinner night changed my major. When I started college, I was convinced that I would major in Near Eastern Studies, but a professor in a different department (and a world expert in Soviet history) saw my love for her class and convinced me to major in Slavic Languages and Literatures, where I would be able to pursue this interest.
If I hadn’t tried to develop a relationship with her, I’m not sure we would have had that conversation — and I’m not sure I’d be majoring in Slavic Languages and Literatures or studying Soviet history as much as I do today.
But professors are also sources of useful information — and are generally happy to provide it. Whether it be about the job search or applications for grad school, they’re usually very generous with their time in offering you guidance and advice.
Now that I’m applying for post-graduation opportunities, I’ve spoken with several professors about what graduate schools they think are a good fit and what fellowships would be best for me. Each person, regardless of department, has taken the time to consider my situation and give me their honest opinion.
I realize that this is harder in some departments than in others; STEM majors tend to have bigger classes, where it can be hard to connect with your professors. Other times, professors are just intimidating. These situations either discourage you from getting to know them or make it difficult to do so.
I’ve been in both, albeit only a handful of times. On one occasion, I went to office hours religiously, to the extent that the professor knew me by name in a massive lecture. In the other situation, I invited the professor to Take-Your-Professor-to-Dinner Night, despite the fact that he remains the person at Princeton of whom I am most afraid. It’s easy to excuse a lack of a relationship with a professor by saying that classes are big or that academics are scary, but we need only make a small effort.
Leora Eisenberg is a senior from Eagan, M.N. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.