Now that you understand where Profs come from a little better, how can you use that knowledge to improve your undergraduate experience?

First, be sure to approach your choice of courses and your interactions with faculty strategically. The student grape-vine will give you a sense of the popular Profs - though beware that faculty aren't always popular for the right reasons. (I once knew a prof who was beloved primarily because he cancelled 50% of classes!).  Careful observation of a Prof's demeanor in class (especially) her/his interactions with students) can help you determine if he/she is the approachable type.  Make a point of going to see those ones during their office hours.  And when you do, ask them about their research.  This should be a happy place for them and will mark you as a serious student in their minds. 

This is a very important point.  Faculty love serious students.  As a general rule they were serious students (at least about their discipline) - even the super-cool and laid back, ones.  Taking their courses seriously shows that you take them seriously.  And since they take themselves seriously, it's good for you to follow suit.  How, you ask? Good attendance, no YouTubing in class, following directions, asking questions, working hard on assignments, discussing grades not with an eye to getting a better grade on that assignment but improving for next time, are all good starts.  This approach makes them feel good about themselves and about you.  Best case scenario they begin to see you as more than a 'face' in their class.  This can lead to all sorts of positive benefits, not least the chance to get a really strong letter of reference for graduate/professional school applications.  

Those of you at larger institutions should also take advantage of TAs.  These are usually grad-students, some of whom at least haven't entirely acclimated to the research-first mantra of the academy. This brand of TA can be counted on to take their teaching really seriously.  This will probably be clear on day one.  If the TA seems well prepared, has a game-plan, takes an interest in getting to know the students etc, you're in good hands.  If not....    Remember that even if they haven't had any formal training in teaching, TAs are generally quite accomplished in the work of the discipline they are teaching.  As a result they can be fonts of helpful advice/strategies/techniques.  Make use of them just as you would an approachable Prof.  Show your interest in the work they're supervising. Attend their office hours and ask for insight on skills as well as content.  Most office hours for TAs (and Profs) are desolate.  You'll almost always get a chance to sit down and have a proper talk.  This is a great way to build a relationship while you're getting bonus learning opportunities.  (As a bonus, they can also be great sources of information about graduate school (if you're considering that option).

In sum, pay attention to your Profs' and TAs' attitudes.  Make a point of approaching and connecting with the ones who seem invested in student success.  Show them how seriously you take the work of their courses.   Invest in relationships that can make or break your undergraduate experience.

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