Illinois alumna Ramona Sullivan (BA, Rhetoric, ’93) told the following story on Facebook about a formative moment she had in the Department of English:
You will have occasions when you fall short. No matter how much you achieve or how well you prepare, you will come up against those moments when you have to turn a bird into a refrigerator, and you just can’t do it. It doesn’t stop you moving forward. Not only did Ramona ultimately ace the class — she went on to the University of Illinois law school and became a public defender. Most recently, she ran for 6th Circuit Judge here in east central Illinois. You may have seen the yard signs around town. That bird didn’t turn into a refrigerator either.
And it was okay. Such moments will be for you, too. Learn more about Ramona here and here. If you’d like to contact her for advice (about law school, finding meaning and purpose in a legal career,working as a public defender, running for office…). make an appointment with Kirstin Wilcox (firstname.lastname@example.org) to join the Department of English alumni mentoring network.
Find office numbers for English/CW faculty on this bulletin board outside the mailboxes, 2nd floor English Building.
If the thought has crossed your might that you should seek out advice from a faculty member (professor, instructor, TA), then you should probably do so. Talking to students outside of class is part of the job, and faculty know a lot of things. Whether the topic is grad school, the upcoming paper assignment, or confusing course material, these conversations require some of the same skills you would use in an informational interview or networking situations, so it’s a good way to practice. Here are some suggestions for how to make it happen.
Go to their office hours. Faculty are required to hold a certain number of office hours for every class they teach. Those are times when they are available to talk to anyone who shows up. You don’t generally need an appointment. Office hours exist entirely so that professors can have conversations with students, and few students take advantage of them. So really — just go.
Office hours > email. Most professors get a lot of email, and answering it takes time away from the things they’d rather be doing (teaching, research, preparing classes). Talking to interested students is (for many) NOT a tedious chore. So you are more likely to establish a friendly connection if you can make contact by coming directly to office hours rather than adding to their email mountain.
Not sure when a professor’s office hours are? Find out!
If it’s a professor for a class you’re currently taking, look for information about office hours in the syllabus. If you look hard and can’t find it, ask at the next class meeting.
Some professors hold office hours by appointment only. If you encounter such a professor then ignore the advice above and go ahead and email them to set up an appointment.
If it’s a professor who isn’t teaching a class you’re currently taking, there are several ways to find out when their office hours are.
Walk by their office door. Office hours are often posted there. (if you don’t know where their office is, look them up in the U of I directory)
If you can’t find office hour information on their office door, then go to the main office for the department they’re in, and ask the clerical staff there. (If you don’t know where the department office is, use the search function on the U of I website — the office location will usually be at the bottom of the webpage for the department)
(last resort) Use Course Explorer to find out when they’re teaching, and lie in wait in the hallway when the class gets out — then ask (politely) when they hold office hours. Be prepared to explain your business (briefly) and set up an appointment on the spot if for whatever reason they’d prefer to set up a time to talk outside their office hours.
If none of these strategies work or if the professor tells you to email them to set up an appointment, then email is the way to go.
Is the faculty member on leave? If he or she is not teaching a class you’re currently taking AND does not appear to be holding office hours at all, they may be on leave, a fact you should acknowledge in your email. The whole point of leave is to give professors time away from their teaching responsibilities — so asking for their advice is something of an intrusion — but if you’ve done enough legwork to know that they’re on leave, you’ve already differentiated yourself from other students.
Not sure how to start a conversation in office hours? Use the library website to look up research the professor has published (just type their name into the “easy search”). Spending some time with that material should give you a question or two to ask to break the ice. It probably will be easier than you think, though — many college instructors are nice people who enjoy getting to know their students.
Students ask me a lot about networking. Everyone knows they need to do it. No one quite knows what it is. Many people are pretty sure they’re not going to enjoy doing it. They often seem to be imagining a scenario like this Kids in the Hall sketch:
Never fear: networking looks nothing like this. Really.
English and creative writing majors figuring out a career path often start with what they don’t want. “I don’t want to teach” is the first filter, often followed by “I don’t want a desk job.” Sometimes it’s more specifically, “I don’t want a corporate job.”
There are jobs that don’t involve desks, but they can encompass everything from freelance copywriting (and putting your laptop on whatever surface you choose) to being a transportation manager for Union Pacific (yes, the train company; yes, they employ English majors.)
There are jobs that don’t involve being employed by a corporation, but they can involve everything from being a case manager for an addiction treatment center to creating branding for a political campaign to running an afterschool program.Continue reading →