Declassified: Helping your professors help you

For first-year students, making the transition from the high school to college learning environment can be difficult. However, cultivating positive relationships with your professors can go a long way in helping you succeed in your first year personally and academically, as well as helping you to feel more at home at Trinity. But how to do this? Below, faculty and students have provided some helpful guidelines:

Don’t Be Afraid To Ask Questions
“For students new to Trinity, I would emphasize, most of all, making sure somehow to feel comfortable asking questions,” said Benjamin Stevens, visiting professor of classical studies. “In fact, many of us are professors because we kept not understanding something in a sequence, kept asking questions, and that just led us to this position.”

Visiting professors’ office hours is a good time to ask questions you have about course content, as well as anything that is on your mind.

“I would encourage all first-years to go to office hours and just hang out with the professors. You can even go to office hours when you don’t have that professor anymore, but you’re just bored and you want to hang out — it’s a lot of fun,” said junior Andja Bjetlich. “I was nervous about going to office hours the first couple of times, so I brought a friend with me, and after a little while it became more comfortable. … This is the time that [professors have] set aside and dedicated for you, for the students. If you’re really worried about it, sending an email beforehand like, ‘Hey, can I just come in and talk?’ can be helpful.”

Need Help? Ask Your Adviser!
Bjetlich recalled being nervous to walk into her first advising meeting with Nina Ekstein, professor of modern languages and literatures.

“I walked into my first advisory meeting with Dr. Ekstein and was like, ‘I am super nervous to be here, and this is terrifying.’ And she was like, ‘Oh, don’t worry about it. I read your admission essay, I have a pretty fairly good idea of who you are, and I’m not worried about you,’ ” Bjetlich said. “One of the most critical and crucial parts of getting a nice rapport going with your professors is just being honest and telling them if there are things that you’re having a hard time with.”

Advisers can be an invaluable element of your Trinity experience, especially when it comes to helping you register for classes.

According to sophomore Gracen Hoyle, her adviser, computer science professor Seth Fogarty, has created a spreadsheet of course requirements that has been extremely useful for her and her fellow computer science majors.

“Dr. Fogarty has a couple of advisees, and his advisees all get this spreadsheet that he’s created for computer science majors. It’s like a template, and he has it for free on his website,” Hoyle said. “It’s like a degree plan, and he’s got it very meticulously sorted to where it’s easy to just plug in what classes you’re taking, and how many credit hours, and it’ll tell you what you need per semester. It’s very helpful.”

Don’t Be Afraid To Ask For Help
“If you find yourself in over your head, talk to your professors about it because they don’t want you to struggle, and you can talk to them,” Hoyle said. “Find one you trust to see about either reducing workload or getting an extension — all you can do is ask, and then you can figure it out from there.”

Additionally, if you are unable to make it to class due to any circumstances, it’s always best to contact your professors.

“One important piece of advice I have that first-years may not think about when they first begin classes (of course you will attend every single class no matter what!) is to email professors in advance if you are going to miss class for any reason and especially if you are going to miss an exam,” wrote sophomore Elena Buffington in an email interview. “I know too many people —including myself — that didn’t contact professors in advance before missing class or an exam and suffered consequences that they otherwise wouldn’t.”

It’s Not the Episode It’s the Series
Overall, Stevens encourages students to see learning as a continual process, as opposed to a set of skills that must be mastered in the course of a single semester.

“One of the main things to remember is [learning] is an arc that takes an entire semester, and that’s just one semester out of a four- or five-year arc. Although any given moment may seem to carry a lot of weight, we know that it’s a longterm perspective,” Stevens said. “The older language for it is, ‘It’s not a sprint, it’s a marathon.’ But maybe, as more media have shifted over to on-demand streaming, we should say, ‘It’s not an episode, it’s the series.’ … Each episode matters, but it’s the whole series that’s important, and the series is not designed to be binged.”