Post Academic

After all these years: Reconnecting with faculty

Posted in Process Stories,Surviving Grad School by Arnold Pan on July 13, 2010
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"A handshake" by Dan Beard (public domain)

Remember how we wrote up a mid-summer Choose-Your-Own-Adventure checklist as a healthy reminder of what you should/could be doing to make the most of your dwindling block of dissertating/research time?  We should’ve included that you need to stay in touch with your diss committee and faculty mentors.  We know it’s easy for academics to reverse-hibernate during the summer, but it’s a good idea to stay in contact with folks and even follow up with faculty you’ve lost touch with.  And it’s never too early to plan ahead for the upcoming round of job applications, so stay in prime networking shape, while you’re also getting what you’re supposed to be doing done.

Here’s what got me to think about how easy it can be to reconnect with your faculty whom you might have dropped out of touch with: Recently, I ran into a prominent prof in my field whom I hadn’t seen for a few years, as well as another faculty member whom I only know on a personal level at a talk.  Not only did I have a good chat with them, but they were in fact warmer to me than ever before.  This may have been due to the occasion, but I almost felt like they felt like they were seeing an old friend when we were catching up–although I didn’t tell them about my post-academic plans!  The interactions put things about my relationships with mentors and former teachers into a new perspective for me.

Memories can be strong: I mean this in two ways.  First, like I mentioned above, good impressions can carry a long way, and remembrances of things past can end up feeling warmer over time.  Second, give credit to your faculty boosters for having good memories, rather than assuming that they’re just absent-minded professors.  And give yourself some credit, because you probably did something good in a seminar or while TA’ing with a prof to make your faculty booster think of you fondly.

More about keeping in touch with your profs, below the fold…

Don’t be shy: Sometimes, you might feel squeamish about contacting a faculty type completely out of the blue, especially if you’re concerned s/he might think that you might want something from her/him–since you probably do.  Well, as many a faculty member has told me, being a mentor means that they are *supposed* to do things for you, so you shouldn’t hesitate to ask.  That goes for help with your diss, writing a rec, whatever is legitimately academic.  In fact, one faculty person I talked to seemed ticked off that one of her students *didn’t* keep in touch better.

Just don’t expect too much: It can be a thrill that a prof you haven’t corresponded with in years actually responds to a query you sent out like a message in a bottle cast into the ocean.  But don’t get too far ahead of yourself, because a nice faculty member isn’t exactly going to become a Facebook friend or an AIM contact.  Once, I asked about a former teacher I worked with a long, long time ago about a postdoc at her new institution.  She seemed to respond very positively to my message, which got me carried away a little, to the point I asked her about the process of turning my diss into a book.  She was nice about it, but I was Heisman-ed and redirected back to my advisor–who had actually suggested I talk to said person in the first place!

And what do you have to lose?: If you can be easily embarrassed like myself, just be logical and remind yourself of this.  If your faculty contact remembers you and is cool about it, any interaction is at the very least a pleasant email correspondence and could lead to something more.  If s/he doesn’t remember you from when s/he actually knew you, don’t sweat it, since it’s not like you and your clumsy message are gonna matter all of a sudden.  Whatever the case, casual networking is just part of the biz, so you don’t have to be mercenary about it or expect anything out of it to get yourself to do it.

One Response to 'After all these years: Reconnecting with faculty'

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  1. “Casual networking is just part of the biz” … I would like to cross-stitch that on a pillow.

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