By Alayna Johnson, 2019-2020 SCS Student Advising Leader:
If there’s one sure thing about the University of Illinois, it’s that it’s huge. In some ways, this is great! It means you’re bound to find a group of people on campus you really connect with. However, some students worry that the size of Illinois will prevent them from getting to know their professors: after all, how are you supposed to form a positive connection with your professor in a lecture of 800 students? Here are some methods that have worked well for me and my friends in SCS.
Make a great first impression: This is an odd tip, but a good one: sit in the front of the lecture hall. Being within the instructor’s eyeshot is likely to help you stay on task and off your phone (take it from me: I’m very guilty of phone-use in class). If the professor asks an open-ended question during lecture, take a shot at answering it. Both of these will help the instructor recognize you (even if it’s just your face) as a focused, engaged student.
Go to office hours: Sometimes, it can be difficult to connect with a professor during office hours, especially if lots of students are in need of help. However, you might be surprised at how empty office hours can be! If this is the case, this is the perfect opportunity to get to know your professor (and, more importantly, for your professor to get to know you) by asking specific, in-depth questions about the course material. As the conversation naturally progresses, ask about the instructor’s research interests (most professors love talking about their research) and share your own. Additionally, if a professor’s regular office hours don’t work with your schedule or they’re just too hectic, don’t be afraid to shoot them an email and ask if you can meet at a different time.
Pursue TA/CA positions: Becoming a teaching assistant (TA) or course assistant (CA) for a class in your major is a great way to build a repertoire with professors on campus. It demonstrates that you not only know the material well but can also successfully teach it to other students. It often also allows you to connect with instructors during lesson planning and grading periods, so take advantage of these opportunities.
Get involved in research: By far the best way to connect with a professor is to join their research group. Many, if not all, of the research professors in the School of Chemical Sciences mentor undergraduates in their lab in some capacity. Securing a research position can be intimidating, especially as a freshman, but the University of Illinois offers several programs to help you begin your research career. Also note that graduate schools tend to prefer that your letters of recommendation come from someone you’ve conducted research under, so joining a research group is a win-win on all accounts.
Once you’ve built a great relationship with a few professors on campus, take a look at this blog written by my fellow SCS Advising Ambassador, Madeleine, to learn the best way to ask for a letter of recommendation.