Whether you’re a brand-new nursing student or a nursing graduate student earning an advanced degree, working with faculty members will help you get as much as possible out of your higher ed years. Sometimes connecting with and learning from faculty members is easier said than done, but forming bonds with your professors can help you in many ways.

If you’re wondering how to best approach faculty members you admire, who are in your specialty, or who teach an especially difficult course, there are a few things to remember.

Take the Initiative

Don’t be afraid to talk to them. As a nursing student, you know your professors are busy and some of them can even be intimidating. But they decided on a career that includes teaching because they want to help others succeed in nursing. Approach them when they are available—good times during scheduled office hours. Ask if they have time to chat or if setting aside more time would fit their schedule. Bring your questions about the work in class or even ideas for relevant and independent projects outside the course requirements.

Know What They Can and Can’t Do

If you’re excited to find a faculty member whose research or career trajectory mirrors your own interests, know they will probably be an excellent resource for you. They might be able to help guide you on important projects, your research direction, or the soft skills (like how to make a great presentation or communicate effectively with your team) that career nurses need to excel. They might be able to introduce you to other nursing professionals across the globe who you can learn from as well. Don’t expect them to find a job for you, but they might be able to steer you in a direction where you’ll find opportunities like grant information or job openings.

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Meet Their Standards

Professors want to work with driven and dedicated students. They don’t expect you to perform miracles, but your efforts will have more impact if you ask questions when you don’t understand something, show up on time, and follow up on outstanding tasks. If you’re working on a team, pull your weight and contribute to make the group’s work better. If you’re working independently, produce work that shows initiative and a real interest in the subject and turn it in on time. Professors expect high-quality work from nursing students, so check everything twice.

Say Thanks

Faculty members are in their roles so they can teach students, and they like to hear when a student appreciates their efforts. If a professor gives you an opportunity to present at a conference, participate in a paper, or follow a specific interest in a lab that’s not exactly part of the syllabus, be sure to thank them. A note or email is appreciated or you can just tell them how their encouragement made a difference and tell them “thank you for helping me.”

Keep in Touch

One of the special talents of many professors is their ability to remember students long after they have graduated. Often, you’ll find a moment in your career that reflects directly on a course you took and a professor who influenced you. Keeping in touch with professors who were particularly encouraging or knowledgeable is a great way to stay connected to people who changed your life and to build your network. You may even be able to offer something in return over the course of your own career.

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Faculty members want to help their students. With some guidelines in place, approaching them can make all the difference in your academic work and even your career.

Julia Quinn-Szcesuil
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