Michael Battalio

Friday, August 26, 2011

Serious conversations (part 27):

        This series is a continuation of my conversations with an atheist friend of mine. These are my edited responses from that conversation. The twenty-seventh and twenty-eighth entries are a collection of comments on my views of academia.

My friend had commented that she had a difficult time relating and communicating with professors. I replied:
        I see, understand, and respect the title and hierarchy (undergrad, masters, Ph.D. candidate, post-doc, professor) of academia, but I don't feel like I can only talk with people one level above me.  I find all the levels accessible.  In general, most professors I’ve found have been very friendly and approachable. Most of the professors are only 20 or so years older than I am, so they aren't intimidating (and actually I’m on a first name basis with several of them).
        Interacting with professors is very important.  They teach not just what you can learn in their classes, but so much more about what it is they do, how to do research, how to write.  The more I interact with them the more I think I'd like to become a professor.  The biggest thing I don't understand is finding and getting grant money and where it comes from etc.  I'm good at finding scholarship, assistantship money, but that seems much different.
        I do hold the title of professor in pretty high esteem though. The last year or so since I've been looking at grad schools, I've been going through lists of professors at universities and seeing their resumes and what they are working on, I do feel very intimidated and a bit nervous to contact them.  I think there is a perceived wall of academic separation because you don't know the professors well enough.
        I also believe that being able to meet a professor outside of academia would be different than going to them after class or during office hours. I think you’ve [my friend] just had bad luck with professors. The professors I know go out of their way to make you feel comfortable and not be too intimidating. Why be intimidating at all? Intimidation prevents the spread of ideas, which is the point of academia.

A comment on asking stupid questions:
        I know this is cliché, but often when you don't understand something, most other people don't understand it either, so I got over the problem of asking questions a while ago.  I'm probably one of the annoying people that asks too many questions, but that doesn't bother me.  If I'm known as the annoying questioner, so what.  I let my grades speak for how well I understand, not how many "stupid" questions I ask.  Although sometimes when I am taking a class from new professor, I do feel nervous about asking something, but once there have been a few grades in the class, and I know the professor knows that I'm attentive, I become much more comfortable asking.

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