When I started college, I did not talk to my professors. They were the founts of knowledge at the front of the lecture hall, and students were to be receivers of this knowledge. I had this idea that it was a one-way street, rather than the dialog that it really should have been. It did not help that my faculty advisor was absent except to sign off on my course list. His lack of willingness to discuss my plans, helped set the tone for me. In fact, I was so far afield that I bought into the idea that anyone who did speak to the profs was clearly a brown-noser and looking to gain an advantage. Don’t get me wrong, sometimes that was the case but more often than not, it wasn’t.
It wasn’t until I was failing Organic Chemistry in my sophomore year that I first approached a professor. I was so far down the rabbit hole of failing, that I did not know what to do. Was it better to keep trying and take my chances or could I bail and try again next year? I knew I needed help of some sort. Orgo was the prerequisite that every pre-Med student had to get past. Seeking guidance, I called the chemistry department and asked about dropping the class. Instead they set up an appointment for me to speak to someone. That someone turned out to be the head of Organic Chemistry and the university Marshall. I was so intimidated when I went for that appointment. I was sure I was going to get a lecture about what a failure I was. What I found was someone who listened, asked questions, and led me through my options. When I noticed a photograph on his wall was of a place I had lived as a child, he asked me how I knew it and we talked about our memories of the place. It turns out he had grown up there. So, what I also found was that profs are people, too.
I ended up taking an F in the course and retaking both semesters during the summer. It was a brutal 12 weeks. I was much better equipped for the experience however, knowing that I not only could talk to the professor, but that I SHOULD reach out to the profs and their teaching assistants. It helped that the first term was taught by the prof from whom I got guidance. He checked in with all of the students throughout.
I learned several valuable lessons from that experience. I found my voice in and out of class. It was not always easy, but it was always worth the effort. If I could go back and talk to my younger self, I would tell entering Freshman me that Professors are people, too – talk to them.
Vice President of Biosafety
Eurofins Lancaster Laboratories. Inc.
Former Chair of STEM for Her