I’m in my third year now and I don’t know if the existential crisis has hit you yet but it’s been pretty real for me. It’s terrifying to think about how we’re going to be out of this routine soon. How we’re going to have to work towards forming a routine for ourselves — grad school, internships, gap years… it’s all a giant blur. Whatever part of the planning stage you’re at right now, I can guarantee one thing that will help– talking to your professors.
I went to my creative writing professor’s office hours last week, to talk about feedback on one of my stories. While that’s we started off with, we ended up talking about life, meaning and what it means to have a career direction. Three things that have been at the very core of my existential crisis. While he didn’t (and as most professors won’t) lay out what steps I need to take, he gave me valuable advice through his experience. Why is it important to listen to your professors’ experiences? Well, a great deal of how we learn and how we act comes through social learning — through observing, listening to and picking up on other people’s behaviours. Especially behaviours that we find connect with us, behaviours we admire.
While it’s important to ask questions specifically about course material, the value you get if go a little beyond that not only makes the course more interesting but hints at something you should explore or maybe even give up in your life. Think about a professor you really admire — aren’t you interested in learning more about their work? Wouldn’t it be great to unpack a little of their life so you can get a window into their experiences? Most professors’ are happy to talk about their ambitions, the steps they took and what they’ve learned over the years. As long as you don’t ask a question that’s too personal or direct, it should go just fine. It’s also important to work your way up to questions that are beyond the course — it’s not something you want to start with. I’d recommend going in with a question about the course material and you will be able to tell if after that asking a few more questions is appropriate. Remember, that it’s important to be respectful of their time as well.
Professor’s are also keen on listen to your experiences, especially ones that tie directly into the course material. Again, in my creative writing class, many people are inspired to write from lived experience and so my professor’s office hours are rarely ever just a few direct questions and answers. Maybe you’re learning French and want to talk to your professor about a summer exchange program and what you learned. Maybe your lab research is related to a topic in class and you want to talk about your findings. My point is apart from your professor’s experiences themselves, their inputs and thoughts on your experiences will also help you get direction.
Most importantly — they understand the confusion. They’ve considered most of the existential questions you’re thinking of and sometimes it’s just comforting to have someone know where you’re coming from. In most cases they’ll smile, nod and proceed to give you their thoughts that as my creative writing professor said “you might not understand now, but you will in time.”