Your professor can do much more than just give you a grade. You're going to need to populate your professional network with established and respected contacts for job references, recommendations, and internship referrals.
If you want to stand out, you need to do more than just go to class, which is why it's a good idea to start making connections early on. Don't wait until you need something to talk about with your professors. Here are some good ways to establish relationships with your professors early.
1. Sit in the front row
Your professors are accustomed to gazing out at a sea of indifferent undergrads. Don't be a texter or a sleeper. Take a seat up front and avoid slouching, and give your professor attention, eye contact and a friendly smile. You want to establish yourself as a responsive audience member who actively participates in class. You don't have to raise your hand for every question, but if you have an answer or a constructive response, definitely participate in class.
If your professor is struggling with her laptop or the classroom's technical equipment, which happens more than you'd think, and you can help out — don't be shy. Professors genuinely appreciate your help. When you finally introduce yourself, you've already gotten your professor to notice you, and you've made a solid first impression.
2. Take advantage of office hours
It's hard not to be intimidated by professors. Remember that professors are people too. They're smart and accomplished and you'll probably admire quite a few of them. But they're also human, and they were once undergraduates too.
Go to their office hours and introduce yourself early in the semester. That way, if you do have an issue later in the term, you've already met. An introduction, and telling them a little bit about yourself is enough of a reason to visit. If you have a question about the text or the lecture, definitely ask them. And if you enjoyed a lecture or appreciate their teaching style, tell them! Just be specific and sincere.
3. Attend university meet and greets
Lectures, panels, department socials, conferences, colloquia, and all the other functions that your university throws can be a great opportunity to rub elbows with university faculty. Just go and mingle. This may sound excruciating, especially if you're shy, but it's worth it.
Mingling with professors is not as hard as you think. If you're too intimidated to talk about yourself, then you can ask your professors questions about themselves. It helps if you do some research. Google your professors and look at their bios on the department website.
Come armed with a handful of icebreakers at the ready. Ask your professors their opinion on just about anything, and you'll probably be surprised by how nice they are. Especially in a social setting. Of course, it helps if you're a great student. But it's also important to have your professor find you memorable, respectful, and nice. Most likely, they'll be happy to give you a hand with a reference or recommendation down the line.
Bergland, C. (2014, March 25). The Neuroscience of Making Eye Contact. Retrieved August 6, 2014. from Psychology Today.
Burkeman, O. (2011, August 30). This column will change your life: Flattery. The Guardian. Retrieved August 6, 2014, from The Guardian.
Jaffe, E. (2010). The Psychological Study of Smiling. Observer: 23(10). Retrieved August 6, 2014, from the Observer.
Ward, A. (2013, July 13). The Neuroscience of Everybody's Favorite Topic. Retrieved August 6, 2014 from Scientific American.