Ng: The people behind professors

Here’s a confession: In my four years in the economics major, I hardly went to office hours. After freshman year seminars transitioned to a life of lectures and curves, I sunk into the routine of attending lecture and section, handing in problem sets, taking exams and kicking the dust off my shoes as quickly as possible.

Last semester, seeking assistance in my economics senior seminar, I broke tradition. From other classes, I knew that the first few minutes of office hours with a new professor are a standard affair: salutations, information about major and year, interest in the class and sometimes, extracurricular pursuits. Last semester, when the question about activities outside the classroom came up, I mentioned my dance company. I invited my professor to our show, because one-third of the seminar would be performing, and because, you know, that’s what you do when you mentioning a performance related endeavor.

We make many of these invitations, but in most instances, we never expect them to actually pan out.

As the semester progressed, my professor asked me in office hours how the company was going; I would reply that it was well, but the rehearsals were substantial and our hard work was an extra reason for him to attend the show at the end of the semester.

I offered to name the piece I was choreographing after the class if he attended, not expecting that I would have to follow through on the proposal.

Towards the end of the semester, he told me that he and another economics professor had made reservations to see the show. I would have the IZA Young Labor Economist Award winner for 2008 watch me do arabesques and grand jetes, and my piece was titled: “ECON 466: The Economics of Aging.”

After the show, I saw my professor sitting alone in the stands. The other professor he had invited had stood him up. We had a brief exchange before a group of friends promptly shrouded me in hugs, forcing us to bid adieus.

“Who’s that guy in the orange shirt?” one of them asked.

“Oh, that’s my econ professor” I replied nonchalantly.

“So wait, you just hugged your econ professor? That’s weird.”

At the time, I hadn’t realized that what I had done was odd. That’s what you do at a performance when greeting people after the show.

I’m not alone. Earlier this semester, another friend’s English thesis advisor came to see “Measure for Measure,” her theater-studies senior project. She too, did not know what to do, so she hugged him as his wife looked on.

For both of us, these professors were not just people we saw once a week for an hour and fifty minutes who taught me about maximum likelihood estimation models or Shakespearean tragedies; they were people who were interested in and supported us in our endeavors inside and outside the classroom. When you put it that way, it’s not so weird to hug after all.

Through my frantic Friday morning visits to my professor’s office hours, I not only learned what instrumental variables or probit regressions were — I found out more about professor as a person. I discovered that he did not begin his career in economics, that he has a toddler daughter who he hopes will become a rock star (and therefore has already enrolled her in music lessons), and that his GPA dropped considerably during senior year after receiving a job offer. I learned that my professor was a person, too.

This semester, I decided to take another seminar offered by the same professor. Though the material on the syllabus interests me, the majority of my decision was based on the fact that he was teaching the class.

Today, I will once again invite him to my company’s spring show — no bribes or naming rights — and I will suggest that he brings his family this time.

Kristen Ng is a senior in Jonathan Edwards College.

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