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Advice a Columbia professor wishes she had taken

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Susan Shapiro, a writer and adjunct professor at Columbia University, has some advice for those still in college. I agree with her advice, and would add that the overall theme of the advice is: Don't do the minimum. Do your best as a student and as a person.

I will also say that, when it comes to letters of recommendation, these behaviors can make all of the difference. For example, I, too, save the (snail mail) correspondence I have received from students over the years. And whenever I get a request for a letter of recommendation, I thumb through my file to see if the student requesting a letter ever wrote to me...

At any rate, the essence of Susan Shapiro's advice (in hindsight) includes:

  • Do your absolute best to get high grades (as there may be immediate as well as long term rewards).
  • Show up to class and pay attention (as a professor, she notices thoses who sit in the front and make meaningful contributions to class discussions).
  • Class connections can be important to a career ( visit your professor in office hours and discuss both subject matter and life issues--and stay connected with classmates in your field as well)
  • Remember that your professors are people, too. (Write them notes of appreciation...they might make a difference)
  • Follow your professors on social media (if they have a professional presence).
  • Stay sober (from all substances) to make a better lasting impression.
  • Ask for help when you need it. 

This advice works when dealing with bosses and co-workers throughout your career as well. 


Follow up

  • In what ways does your approach to college parallel the ways that Susan Shapiro behaved? In what ways do you follow the advice she has for students now? Comment on the pros and cons of "doing the minimum" in a school or work experience. 
  • In what ways, both formally (i.e. Linked in) and informally do you network and stay connected to both people and your profession?  Be specific about how the connections occur and the benefits (or downsides) that you derive from them.