It’s easy to forget, but professors do have careers outside of lecture halls and classrooms. Much like many other students, I research my professors before choosing classes for a new semester by going on RateMyProfessors.com or asking friends and classmates in my major about the professor whose class I’m considering. My research has never involved looking up a potential professor on LinkedIn or Googling them to find out about their professional life outside the classroom, but I’ve realized this semester that it definitely should.
When I walked into Fiction Writing for the first time this semester, I figured Louis Bayard, an adjunct professor, had probably written several published short stories and maybe a novel or two, since professors are expected to have published work in their fields. But because I hadn’t looked up his work, I was caught off guard on the first day when he told us he’d written eight novels, in addition to numerous essays and book reviews for The New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times and Salon. And if that wasn’t enough to cause a media junkie like me to geek out, he then mentioned that he’d written reviews for one of my favorite TV shows, Downton Abbey, in The New York Times. As an English major, I felt like I’d won the lottery.
This professional fiction writer, who’s had an admirable career, was now unexpectedly my professor. It got me thinking about the other professors in my field at GW who have equally impressive resumes I’d never considered. Going on the Rate My Professors website and getting friends’ opinions are helpful resources, and students should take advantage of them. But when looking at professors for an upcoming semester, especially if they’re teaching a course related to one’s interests or potential profession, students should factor in professors’ careers in addition to the amount of reading they assign.
It’s true that a professor’s accomplishments in their field don’t guarantee that they will be an effective teacher. Most students have probably had a professor who was very knowledgable about the course material but unsuccessful in helping students understand it. A professor’s career-related achievements don’t solely dictate whether or not they will be an effective teacher, but they could provide valuable insight into a certain field or even lead students toward opportunities for internships or careers. Students who are looking at courses that correspond to their interests, or that land in their major or minor track, should access the Columbian College of Arts and Sciences’ list of published books by faculty to get a better sense of their professors’ personal interests.
Since my Fiction Writing course is structured as a workshop, and because there are only 12 students in the class, each student has multiple opportunities to write stories and receive critiques from our professor and peers. The format of the class itself gives me access to writing and storytelling advice from my professor on a regular basis, an asset that students in other departments and bigger classes don’t necessarily have. However, these students who don’t get feedback on their work in the classroom should take the time to get it from their professors outside of class. Even students who have more one-on-one time with their professors should go a step beyond feedback and talk to them about their careers and their line of work. As GW students, we’re fortunate enough to have accomplished faculty members across all departments. This is especially true in CCAS – which is home to the political science, history and English departments, among others – and it’s our responsibility as students to gain as much as we can from our professors’ expertise.
It’s easy to think of professors and their courses as necessary stepping stones to receiving a diploma. But professors are also seasoned professionals who, in addition to being well-connected, have extensive knowledge about their industries that can only benefit students. Even if you aren’t in the market for an internship or job, ask your professors if you could stop by during office hours and ask a few questions about their work. The worst outcome is that they say no, but most professors would be flattered to be asked about what they do. For the rest of the school year, keep in mind that your professors are here to help you – and not just with completing papers and projects, but with building a pathway to a career.
Natalie Prieb, a sophomore double-majoring in English and creative writing, is a Hatchet opinions writer.
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