Desmond Keuper

Receiving your first round of syllabi is intimidating. Acquiring your textbooks and skimming through the long sections to which you will devote caffeine-fueled evenings and nights can feel similarly scary, as does the conversations that will fill the first few days of class — the breakdown of the various quizzes, tests, long and short essays and participation requirements that will make up the first semester of your time at college.

Before you have completely settled in, the peers you have surrounded yourself with will start talking about what they hope to do over the summer. You’ll receive an email about selecting classes for next semester and find a long and confusing series of lists of courses and prerequisites and websites that seem impossible to navigate. You will begin to feel overwhelmed all over again.

While this sort of stress is, to some degree, inevitable, there are ways of mitigating it. The way that I have found this most helpful is by cultivating strong relationships with my professors.

To address the problem of succeeding academically, I will return to the participation requirement that makes up a chunk of many grade breakdowns. This simply means raising your hand (or clicking whichever icon on Zoom) to speak in class. You can ask a dumb question or reply incorrectly to a question that the professor has posed to the class. You might embarrass yourself, as I have done frequently. However, you will be satisfying one grading requirement and conveying to your professor that you are interested in succeeding in their class. They will remember who you are. Attending office hours has a similar effect. Apart from the fact that most professors are willing to help you in whatever way you need (so long as you don’t ask them anything that’s already on the syllabus), it also makes an impression on them, paving the way for a positive relationship.

Toward the end of solving problems outside of your performance in their class, once you establish a repertoire, your professors are usually very willing to give you advice. I have had professors help me navigate my major requirements and select classes. Professors have given me research work to do over the summer, and with the help of several professors, I am now participating in my major’s honors thesis program.

These sort of relationships are often more helpful than the advice you might get from career advisors, who may not know the particulars of what it is you’re interested in doing or academic advisors, who may not completely understand the needs of your department. My department’s course offerings underwent a shift, and it was with the help of one of my professors that I navigated my selection for next semester. This was a professor for whom I’d done research work one summer and who helped me refine my honors thesis topic.

I do not think that I would have come as far as I have without the caliber of mentorship I’ve received from my department. However, I will also say that I might not have received such a high quality of mentorship had I not pursued it. To any new students, I would recommend working to cultivate similar relationships. They will both further your chances at success in what can often be a difficult and overwhelming environment, increase your opportunities in whatever field of study you are interested in and lead to what are honestly very interesting and fulfilling conversations. I have been allowed to enjoy both the advice and assistance given by my professors — and the relationships themselves — and the academic discourse that they pave the way for.

Desmond Keuper is a senior majoring in philosophy.