For psychology majors getting to know faculty isn’t easy. This is especially true if you attend a major state university in which most courses are taught by graduate students or adjunct faculty. Nevertheless, doing so is crucial to your professional success. Beyond that, it can be fun and interesting and you may even form a life-long, professional relationship.
Why is getting to know your psychology faculty important?
Getting to know faculty is very important – First, and foremost because one can learn a great deal from them. Second, getting good grades and high GRE scores is not enough – to get into graduate school one needs excellent psychology, research experience and faculty references. So, how do you get to know faculty especially if your classes are very large?
Enroll in small classes that require written work; take more than one course from a faculty person
Ideally, you should start getting to know faculty early in your college experience, in your freshman year. This is not always so easy in a large university. If possible, enroll in small classes which require written work. Take more than one course from a faculty person, particularly if you only have access to larger classes.
Prepare to participate
Be sure to participate in class. This is essential even if you must take exclusively large classes. Prepare to participate. You want the faculty person to remember you as a bright, articulate person. So, provide thoughtful responses. Do the reading prior to the class in which it will be discussed, and ask questions aimed at integrating the lecture with the reading.
If you haven’t done the reading, silence is the better part of valor
On days when you have not completed the reading, silence is the better part of valor. The myth perpetuated that you can snow faculty without doing the reading is false. Nearly all faculty find this behavior to be highly annoying. However, many do not call students on it for fear that they will alienate the well read but more reticent students from participating.
Seek out faculty during their office hours
Seek out faculty during their office hours. Come to talk about the material in greater depth. Come for advice about graduate school. But, in doing so, remember to do some groundwork. Do not ask faculty to do your homework for you; that can backfire. Remember, if you are graduate school bound, then you want to engender in faculty the sense that you are a self-starter. Ultimately, you want them to write references that say that you are able to work independently and that you know when to seek supervision. You do not want them to say that you work well under close supervision; this is code for “will require a lot of your time”. To wit, I am always impressed when students hit the web or the library before they come to me.
Participate on the faculty members research team
Beyond taking classes, another way to get to know faculty is to work with them on their research or on an independent study. If your university has a mechanism for this, it is essential that you obtain this kind of experience. You will NOT be accepted into any Ph.D. program in Clinical Psychology without research experience! I have a colleague who had 1600 on her boards, a 4.00 and 10 years of clinical experience; she was rejected from graduate school because she did not have the necessary psychology, research experience. She took a year to rectify this deficit and gained admission. Today, she is a nationally renown psychology researcher in her field of clinical research. If you attend an excellent college in which faculty are devoted to teaching and not to research, you must take systematic steps to acquire psychology research experience possibly in a local university school of medicine, in a summer program, or during a semester off. My column on obtaining psychology research experience addresses strategies for getting these opportunities.
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This material is copyrighted. However, Psychology Departments, Psi Chi Chapters, Psychology Clubs and University and College Career Centers may republish this column, free-of-charge as long as it is reprinted in its entirety and without alteration. Also, along with this column, copyright and the following byline must be attached: Dr. Lynn Friedman is a Washington DC Psychologist, psychoanalyst and executive coach. She is on the associate faculty at Johns Hopkins University. Web site: www.drlynnfriedman.com. She can be reached at: (301) 656-9650.