Yale offers undergraduates a wide array of exceptional resources: best-in-class libraries, professional-grade theaters and gorgeous work spaces. But its best resource, and perhaps its most overlooked, is its faculty. As a research university built around a liberal arts college, Yale is endowed with a faculty more interested in its undergraduates than most of Yale’s peer institutions. In fact, faculty members are required to teach undergraduates here, meaning that it’s more difficult to become the quintessential, washed-up, tenured professor concerned only with their PhD students. In other words, Yale professors are usually not only smart and accomplished, but also sincerely invested in their students.
That’s why, if you’re a first year, you ought to take advantage of this outstanding resource by doing everything you can to get the most out of the faculty members here. You might view the archetype of the Yale professor as intimidating, or at least above talking to a lowly kid about some introductory essay or unpaid internship. In those instances, you should feel empowered by the fact that it is both Yale professors’ responsibility and, usually, their desire to get to know you.
As you settle into classes and wade through shopping period, here’s some advice from this senior on how to get the most out of Yale’s community of scholars and teachers.
First, think outside of office hours. Yale faculty members are required to offer a certain number of office hours per week, but these can be inconveniently timed or highly popular among your classmates. Be open to alternatives: Invite your professor to lunch at a dining hall or coffee at Blue State, while bearing in mind that such a meeting might take a week or two to get on the calendar. Faculty members are just as eager to get out of the office every once in a while as the rest of working America, and I’ve found that some of the best conversations I’ve had with professors occur outside of typical office hours.
Second, have a purpose. Once you’ve scheduled some time to sit down one-on-one with a professor, think about what you’d like to take away from that meeting. Perhaps you want to learn about their background before coming to Yale; maybe you’re looking for advice on professional options for the upcoming summer. You might just want to learn more about something in class that piqued your interest. Whatever the case, the burden is on you to bring productive questions and a willingness to lead the discussion.
Third, be sympathetic to competing interests. Yale faculty members have a lengthy — and growing — list of responsibilities that comprise their jobs here. Outside of teaching and conducting research, your professor might chair an administrative committee, serve as a leader in their residential college or advise graduate students. Cut your professor some slack, especially in the beginning of your relationship, when they inevitably forget your prospective major or hometown. It’s not personal!
Finally, be real. It’s not difficult to detect when an interaction is fake or forced. Instead, make sure to view and treat your professors as people, not symbols, who have real lives about which they’re likely keen to share with you. As I reflect on some of my favorite professors over the past three years, I’ve come to learn not only about them, but also about their families, interests and beliefs. It’s okay — and can even be more fulfilling — to veer into that territory.
First years, I know that you’ve been pointed in various directions as you begin your academic year. I encourage you to anchor yourself, as you attempt to find your center, in Yale’s faculty members who, by and large, want to get to know you. If you gloss over this important part of Yale, you won’t truly be getting the most out of this exceptional college experience. After all, some of my favorite moments here at Yale have been alongside professors I care about — whether it was a shot of whiskey after receiving a job offer, a dinner with their family or a final class in their living room over soup and warm conversation.
Emil Friedman is a senior in Silliman College. His column runs monthly. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org .