One of the biggest changes we experience during the transition from high school to college is the relationship between professors and students. In general, high school is more structural: you are not your teacher’s friend, and the only appropriate conversation topics are ones having to do with school. However, in college it is seemingly common to talk to your professors outside of class and have friendships with them.
Is this appropriate? The Foghorn says yes.
First, it is important to learn how to talk to professionals. In college, most of your professors are professionals in the field they teach in. If you wish to work in the field of your major after graduation, it helps to already know how to interact with established professionals. This is not implying that networking with your professors should be your top priority; you should never use a relationship for just professional gain. However, this experience is a benefit to a relationship that can have life-changing benefits. How many times have you heard a graduate say, “Oh yeah, I was friends with professor so and so, and they landed me a job here?”
The practice of talking to established professionals becomes personal when you take into account the identities of professors and students. For many people, USF was the first time they had a teacher who was a member of a marginalized group working in their field. To be able to learn about their experiences and to know how they were able to succeed when the academic world is pitted against them is a privilege.
Next, college students are adults. We would generally find it inappropriate if a high school teacher struck up a friendship with their student; however, in college we are considered “grown-ups.” We will be expected to work with others outside our age group once we enter the professional world. There are many things you gain from having a friendship with a professor — or simply someone with more life experience than you — that you cannot get from someone who is the same age as you.
Although we are all adults, friendships between professors still have certain nuances. The devil is in the details. The dynamic between a student and a professor should always be different than that between two students. Although professors are not untouchable robots, we should respect them and acknowledge that they are authority figures who are here to teach us.
We also need to acknowledge gender when thinking about individual cases of student-professor friendships. Whether it’s fair or not, we can all agree that a friendship between a female professor and a male student brings up different reactions than a friendship between a male professor and a female student. One way to help mitigate this is by making sure meetings with professors are in public places rather than private, more personal settings.
Student-professor friendships have different rules than friendships among students, but that doesn’t mean that they are not worth having. When you talk to your professor outside of class, you don’t just learn how to act in the professional world — you can learn from their personal experiences and build genuine, long-lasting connections.