From the APA Science Student Council

How to Develop Relationships with Faculty (other than your advisor)

Here are a few tips to help you capitalize on and maximize these opportunities to meet, socialize, and develop relationships with those faculty members that do not stand between you and graduation.

By Stanley O. King, II

We all know (or at least we are told) that a healthy relationship with your advisor is critical for success as a graduate student. However, less emphasized and probably less thought about is how establishing relationships with other faculty members within your department, your college or university, and beyond, can also be beneficial now and later in your professional life. For instance, many doctoral programs require graduate students to include one faculty member from outside their department on their dissertation committee. In addition, most faculty job applications require recommendation letters from academics other than your primary advisor. Therefore, it is in your personal and professional interest to reach out and connect with professors aside from your advisor during your graduate training.

However, forming relationships with faculty can be a difficult and daunting task. Let’s be honest, addressing them by their first name doesn’t make some of them any less intimidating, more social, or even more normal. Luckily, in spite of this, there are numerous opportunities throughout your graduate training to interact with professors. Here are a few tips to help you capitalize on and maximize these opportunities to meet, socialize, and develop relationships with those faculty members that do not stand between you and graduation.

Invite outside faculty to your department to give a seminar. This is a great way to meet and interact with professors from other institutions. Additionally, by taking charge and organizing a professor’s visit, it will allow you to make a good impression on the visiting professor as well as your department. If you have limited time, another option to make an impression would be to volunteer to introduce a visiting professor for their lecture.

Introduce yourself and welcome visiting professors. Professors often spend their sabbatical or summers doing research at a different university than their own. This is a great opportunity to welcome a visiting professor. Offer yourself as a resource to help them get acclimated and find their way around campus or town. Remember that little gestures can go a long way.

Be social at departmental receptions and seminars. Try to resist the urge to socialize only with your fellow graduate students at departmental receptions. This is an ideal time to get to know faculty in your department, beyond the science and on a more personal level. Additionally, try getting to the seminar early so you can sit next to a faculty member and initiate conversation before the seminar begins. This tactic is an easy way for you to begin developing rapport with a faculty member without having the anxiety of carrying on an extended conversation.

Attend seminars outside your department. This may be the easiest way to meet faculty at your university that are outside your department. Do not underestimate the value of developing relationships with faculty outside of your specific research area. You never know when or from where a new research idea will come. In addition, acknowledging your enjoyment of a professor’s lecture at a seminar works as a great opening line in an email to start correspondence.

Join a departmental committee and/or a university committee needing graduate representation. This leadership experience is an ideal way to meet and work with faculty. Be social and competent in your committee work and this is a fool-proof way to form professional bonds and earn the esteem of faculty.

Get to know post-docs. After researchers complete their post-doctoral appointments they typically become professors. Capitalize on this academic convention and get to know the post-docs in your lab or department before they move on to faculty positions. However, keep in mind this is a long-term networking strategy and should be done in addition to meeting current faculty.

While trying to establish a relationship with faculty, remember that professors have very limited time and you do not want to be a nuisance. Always be professional and respect any boundaries faculty may establish. Moreover, show a genuine interest in faculty and their research as you are getting to know them. However, meeting faculty is only half the battle, you also need to maintain and sustain any bonds formed.  A couple of suggestions to maintain faculty ties are to keep them up-to-date with your graduate milestones or achievements, send congratulatory emails for any awards or promotions the faculty member may have received, and if you do not have a specific reason, ask if you could be of assistance with anything.  Everyone needs help. Nonetheless, try not to be overbearing when maintaining contact and resist regurgitating their curriculum vitae to them in conversation. Lastly, whether developing or maintaining a relationship with faculty, never forget the power of a warm smile and a friendly hello.