November 17, 2020

How to Make Connections with Your Professors in Zoom University

By: Savvy Pre-Med Staff

Networking with your professors is NOT easy. It’s daunting to one’s social nerves, and it can make you feel like a “kiss-up” or “try-hard” if not done properly.

It entails a risk of lost time and potentially means facing rejection, but it’s essential to accumulating a stand-out set of letters, activities, and exposure.

Unfortunately, like many things in life, COVID has made networking even more challenging for pre-meds.

How do you virtually connect with professors in Zoom University?

How to Make Connections with Your Professors in Zoom University

Professors are busy, and they don’t get paid to write letters of recommendation. 

Other than effectively lecturing in their classes and offering a certain amount of office hours, they don’t owe you anything, so you need to meet them more than halfway and have realistic expectations of them.

In other words, the onus is on you to make them care about you and your future.

Here are some useful tips that will endear you to your professors, especially during these COVID times of virtual learning. 

Be Authentic

Professors can usually tell when students have ulterior motives. So it’s important for you to have good intentions when attending their virtual office hours. Ask questions related to class material, or pick their brains about their professional background.

Don’t be that pre-med that only attends office hours because they just want a letter of recommendation. Professors will see through your sycophantic tactics. They’ve taught for many years and have seen every trick in the book. 

Two words: be authentic. Or at the very least, “slow your roll” and take time to develop a person-to-person relationship before asking for a letter. 

Strive to Help Others Without Expecting Anything in Return

When one of our past students found out that his classmate was also applying to medical school, he offered to peer-edit her secondary essays and shared helpful application resources.

Later, when the 2020-2021 interview season began, she offered to connect him with her own friends from schools where he was interviewing! And now he’ll be attending one of those schools in the Fall of 2021. Talk about good karma.

We can easily apply this same logic to your relationships with professors. You could offer to help them with logistical, time-consuming tasks or see if they need a guinea pig for one of their assignments or project ideas. 

This will not only put you in their good graces, but it could lead to potential teaching assistant positions, lab roles, or high-quality testimonies in a letter of recommendation.

But remember: do it for the sake of being helpful, not opportunistic

Take Multiple Classes Taught by the Same Professor

This is a great way to establish a strong professional relationship with a professor. Since professors have countless students, they tend to appreciate seeing a familiar face from semester to semester. 

If you develop an ongoing relationship, don’t be afraid to make your voice heard. For example, if this is their first time teaching online, see what they think about the experience and politely ask if you may share your thoughts.

It might seem awkward or pushy, but professors are usually welcome constructive criticism, and your feedback may very well help them become better educators.

Make suggestions for how they can improve their course; tell them what assignments you liked and why. Many students would be afraid of being this assertive, so it will likely earn you respect and show your potential as a future TA

Participate in Class

Make it a goal to participate at least once in class. Whenever a professor asks a question and nobody responds, don’t succumb to conformity - break the silence! 

Professors appreciate students who participate; it helps make the class interesting and helps time pass. Whenever possible, ask thoughtful, open-ended questions in class, especially if it adds to the discussion. This is a great way to stand out, too!

Be mindful of your appearance and background on camera. Non-verbal communication can be more telling than verbal communication. Watch your body language, maintain the posture of a scholar, and show your professor that you are engaged. These small gestures can make you more memorable as a student.

Design Your Own Capstone Project and Ask a Professor to Guide or Mentor You Through Its Completion

There was a time when one of our past students was in dire need of research experience. He struggled because he was in community college, where such opportunities were limited.

Since he couldn’t find any research opportunities, he made his own. He was taking microbiology and had just done a poster presentation as part of the class. Because he genuinely enjoyed the gene-editing technology he presented, he asked his professor to set up an independent research project. Not for credit, just for fun. 

And guess what happened? It turned into a full-fledged collaborative project and resulted into a publication and several conference presentations.  

He succeeded because he made it easy for his professor to say "Yes!" He did his homework and crafted an elevator pitch. Since he came with a plan that allowed the professor to do the least amount of work or labor possible, the professor was happy to share her resources and network to facilitate all the logistics. 

Not sure how to develop a virtual capstone experience? We’ve got you covered

Build Your Personal and Online Network

First things first - whether you’re networking academically or clinically, you should use connections you already have to seek opportunities to strengthen your application.

Is there a doctor in your family that you can shadow? Does anyone in your family know anyone in their network that can help you?

Advocate for yourself and ask around!

If your primary network is limited, use LinkedIn. Connect with peers, colleagues, previous employers, and/or professors you’ve had.

Update your profile and reach out to people doing work you’re interested in. Ask them if they have advice on how to get to where they’re at.

People love talking about themselves and usually won’t mind giving out advice. If you’re lucky, they’ll recommend you or put in a good word for you. 

Your Virtual Networking Checklist:

To summarize:

  • Respect professors’ time and meet them more than halfway
  • Maintain realistic expectations
  • Take multiple classes with the same professor to develop continuity
  • Always keep your Zoom camera on during class
  • Ask and answer questions on camera if possible
  • Go to virtual office hours if you can
  • Set up appointments with them
  • Strive to be authentic and offer to help them without reward
  • Make their process of mentorship for you as easy as possible
  • Perform maintenance on your current network and strive to continually expand that network

Have any questions about virtual networking? Let us know in the comments below, and we’ll respond to you personally!

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