Add this to your list of priorities for graduate school: making a good impression on your professors. Why? As a graduate student you need to find someone on the faculty who will be willing to become your advisor or mentor. Moreover, jobs and academic fellowships often require references. Faculty are ideal sources of references. In addition, your professors’ perception of you could also influence your grades andability to find a good advisor. Like it or not, perceptions matter.
Be it face-to-face, over the phone, at a conference, or via a fax, email, video correspondence or letter, it’s always important to come across in a positive light, especially with your advisor. Graduate school is far too competitive to risk making a bad impression.
Fortunately, it’s easy to score high marks with your professors by following just a few easy steps. To begin with, follow the Golden Rule – treat others the way you would like to be treated – and think about what you would expect ifyou were a professor. In addition, start with 5 of TA-DA’s 10 basic guidelines to help pinpoint you as stellar student with promise.
Rule #1: Let Your Hard Work Speak For You
All of us form impressions very quickly when we first meet someone, even if it is only on an unconscious level. Professors are no different: their impression of you – are you studious or a slacker? – can be formed within the first couple of weeks in the semester. With so many students in the class, it’s important to reinforce the impression that you are a hard worker.
However, if you are the only woman or minority in your class you will stand out. You can either make that fishbowl experience work for you or against you. Not participating in class discussions does not make you invisible but memorable to the professor but not in a good way. The professor will think that you are not prepared, or worse, not smart enough to join the discussion.
Participate as much as possible in class discussions, turn in all assignments on time, and make sure you put your best effort into every project. Moreover, it’s important to do your research and understand the preferences and expectations of the faculty with whom you wish to work. If all of their advisees stay and work in the lab over the holidays, for example, that’s a big clue that you should be doing the same. And, not only should you stay, but you should make sure to get some meaningful work done while you are there.
In other words, take the time to familiarize yourself with the culture of your department, and take care to toe the line on all accepted practices. Keep in mind that faculty talk to one another, so be sure to follow suit in all of your courses, not just the ones led by professors with whom you’d like to work.
Rule #2: Dress Appropriately
Make a good impression by wearing the right clothes. You should dress the right way for the “role” you are playing as an intellectual graduate student. Your clothing says a lot about you. Does your attire communicate an authoritative, intellectual, and competent image?
Although today’s graduate school environment is much more casual than it was even 10 years ago, it’s still important to dress the part. The key is to dress modestly and appropriately for whatever activity, event or gathering you attend. There is no need to wear the latest designer labels, but do make sure that your clothing is clean and fits well. If you look sloppy or unkempt, there’s a strong possibility that the people you had hoped to impress will assume that your work habits and research are sloppy, as well.
Also, others in the academic community are looking at you whether you know it or not. Think about it. If the president of the university wanted to select a graduate student from your department to speak at an alumni function based on what you wear on a daily basis, would someone recommend you?
Rule #3: Speak Clearly
Be sure to communicate – and enunciate – clearly to everyone you meet, as well as when you are giving an oral presentation. Few things are more annoying than having to struggle to decipher what someone is saying because their words are mumbled or garbled. Be sure to avoid “ums,” “ahs,” and a lot of filler words such as “and,” “like” and “so” instead of simply taking a breath. Silence is far preferable to the use of these types of words.
Also be sure to focus on controlling the pace at which you speak, and to speak with a well-modulated voice. Always use proper grammar and avoid slang. Remember: if people don’t understand what you’re saying, they may completely disregard you, your research, and your intellect. If you need to hone your speaking skills, your local Toastmaster’s organization is a great place to practice. Don’t wait until you have to give your first presentation, check to see if the is a Toastmasters club on your campus or in your local area.
Rule #4: Be Professional with Advisor/Committee Members
The quality of the relationship you have with an advisor can vary greatly based on the commitment levels and personalities of both parties. While both of you have some responsibility for making this relationship work successfully, the bulk of the burden falls on you, and it’s important that you always be as professional as possible with your advisor and committee members. Following are some good examples:
• Let your advisor/committee member know that you value his or her time. Maintain regular meetings and be sure to get to your scheduled meetings on time. Don’t sweat it if your advisor/committee member is late.
• Be prepared with an agenda for your regularly scheduled meetings, and prepare questions ahead of time.
• Call and cancel if you will not be able to make your scheduled meeting.
• Send a follow-up email confirming any items and resolutions that were discussed during the meeting.
• Prepare a coversheet with an outline of your document indicating the type of feedback you are looking for.
• Don’t get frustrated if they ask for another copy of the latest draft of your document even if you haven’t made any changes since you gave it to them last week.
• Always bring a hard copy of the chapter to be discussed with you.
• Takes notes at all meetings; you won’t remember everything once you leave the office.
• Be sure to turn your cell phone off or put it on vibrate during these meetings.
• Be sure to respond to your advisor within 24 hours each time he/she contacts you, regardless of whether it is by fax, voice-mail, email or video conference. Even if you don’t have an immediate answer, acknowledge that you have received the message/request, and that you are currently considering it or taking action upon it.
Rule #5: Respect the Time Others Give
Give everyone your full attention. It makes people feel as though their opinions, insights and time are valued. When speaking with others, be sure to look them in the eye. All of us love our cell phones, but refrain from checking that – or any other electronic device – during conversation. And don’t insult them by continually taking their eyes off of them to “check out” other people in the room. To make people feel as though their opinions, insights – and even their company – are important, it’s important to give them your full attention. Doing so will make a powerful and lasting impression.
Similarly, if you pick up a phone call, the implication is clear that you have time to talk … so give the caller your full attention. Far too many people continue to “multi-task” during phone conversations, which can be categorized as nothing less than rude. The caller on the other end of the line can clearly sense that your attention is elsewhere, particularly when you give one-word or off-topic answers to questions, or when they hear typing in the background.
If you answer the call, give the person your full attention, and greet them like you’re sincerely excited to hear from them. If the time isn’t right for a lengthy conversation, courteously state that you’re busy at the moment, and ask if you can set a later time at which you can dedicate your full attention.
If after you’ve reviewed these 5 tips for making a positive impression, you find that you have made a misstep thus, far it is never too late to turn things around. While you still need to be yourself, try to implement as many of these steps as possible in your interactions with your lab mates, advisors, committee members and department staff. Sometimes it can be useful to spend a little time observing how other successful graduate students are able to command the attention of others and be seen in a positive light.
I have been following your newsletters ever since I purchased TADA over a year ago. Shamefully, a number of things have been obstacles for me and I have not finished my dissertation yet.
I just ran across the site and thought of your ‘dissertation houses’ and how they are somewhat similar in concept.
If you wouldn’t mind and have a few minutes, I am hoping you may answer a few questions for me.
My first question would be – are there more ‘houses’ planned soon?
Secondly, I have found my most productive time is when I remove myself and go to a place outside my home to work – such as to a friend’s house for a long weekend. That however creates its own difficulty in that I feel obligated to socialize in the evenings when I am otherwise on a roll, indicating to me that my marathon work seems to need more of a hotel atmosphere (and that marathon writing works for me).
I believe I am ready to do just that – go away and work in a hotel for several days just to write. I do not have thousands of dollars to spend (beyond the massive tuition already spent) so I think this may be most effective.
If I choose this option, do you have any suggestions that I may not be thinking about? I can take my books and articles with me and will certainly have internet access.
Lastly, I am wondering – you have said a few times that hiring a coach is a good idea for some people – and I think I may be a good candidate. How would I go about hiring one? I think the person should be outside my department and/or university because of the politics involved and biases already involved in my situation. Yet my networking is poor and I am not sure who to hire/how
Thank you so much for your product and consistent encouragement. Without it, I am sure I would have given up by now. Instead, each time I hear from you, I am revitalized and know I can get this done – and sooner than later. You truly are an inspiration and hope someday to be able to fully support your endeavor once I am a professor!
Many kind regards,
Happy New Year. Thank you for contacting me. That is a very interesting concept and quite similar to Dissertation House at UMBC. We are getting ready for Winter Dissertation House Jan 19-22, 2010. We will also have our usual online component; TADA Winter Challenge 2010.
I did check out that website that you forwarded to me. You have inspired to host a TADA Dissertation Retreat during Spring break March 17-20. The details will be forthcoming.
To answer your question about a coach I have written a newsletter about based on an interview with a dissertation coach Dr. Gina Hiatt at Academic Ladder. Check it out to see if you want individual coaching or group coaching.
About going to a hotel and writing; it’s possible if you are able to do your best writing alone in a quiet space. My best friend did that because she had a lot of responsibilities at home that distracted her from writing, i.e. husband and children. If you need a more structured process then a Dissertation House like environment might be better for you. If you can wait until March perhaps you can join us.
Until then please join us online Jan 18-22 with the DH online and tryout the coaching services of Dr. Hiatt.
All the best to you in the New Year.
Dear Dr. Carter,
Happy New Year to you, too! I successfully defended my dissertation on Nov. 23–much appreciation to you and the DH week in July for giving me the final push! I just finished up revisions over the holiday, which I am reviewing with my advisor this Friday. Glad to pitch in as a speaker/resource for any future activities you might organize. You are doing a wonderful job!
I completed my masters Spring 2007! I was fortunate to be at Howard when you came to speak. Your site is great and wonderfully encouraging! I signed my friend up for the FinishLine newsletter, unbeknownst to her. She really needs the support your newsletter offers. I thank you for the information and insight!
Best wishes, Y.Q.
Thank you so much Dr. Tull and Dr. Carter for the warm wishes, thoughts and celebrating with me! I deeply appreciate your support and all of the incredible work that you do with PROMISE! The defense was incredible (I never thought I would say this but I felt so much joy in sharing my research with the committee and guests)… I was given very minor edits and revisions to complete following the defense– and as of yesterday night — I am done done! All revisions and edits are now completed, everything is signed off on and my dissertation has been posted:) Bless you both!
Happy holidays, Jennifer