In facing the challenge of establishing one's identity within the undergraduate academic setting, the majority of undergraduate students often neglect an important asset that can prove to be highly beneficial, not only toward their professional development, but to their personal life as well. Developing genuine student-faculty relationships is one, if not the most, rewarding thing undergraduate students can do to further their overall development, specifically in the field of psychology. If properly developed, an enduring, mutually beneficial relationship is formed that can positively influence one's life. In addition to the professional guidance and advice a faculty member can provide, the relationship can also serve as a close and lasting friendship.
Developing the Relationship
One notable obstacle that seems to prevent undergraduate students from establishing this vital relationship is their feelings of intimidation. In other words, students simply do not feel comfortable in approaching faculty and initiating simple conversation. As an undergraduate, you need to keep in mind that your respective faculty members have been in your shoes. It is highly likely that they will be more than happy to accommodate your needs (Olatunji, 1999).
Where do you begin? Should you rely on chance encounters and then hope that these encounters blossom into relationships? This type of approach is unlikely to prove successful. As with many of life's challenges, the process of developing a relationship with your faculty member requires somewhat of a systematic approach. (1) Examine yourself and get a general idea of your interest within the field of psychology. (2) Find a faculty member who has interests closely resembling yours. (3) Proceed to take the respective courses that faculty member teaches, and it doesn't hurt to sit in the first row! (4) Stop by during his or her office hours, and ask relevant questions about class topics, and provide comments regarding class discussions. (5) Continue to interact with your respective faculty member, talk with him or her about the psychological field, and ask questions relating to the faculty member's career path (Morgan & Korschgen, 1998).
Now that you have broken the ice, you can proceed to take the next step toward developing productive relationships with your respective faculty member. Ask your faculty member to guide you through an independent study or a special project of some sort. You may even ask to serve as a research assistant or a teaching assistant. This will not only prove to be academically beneficial, it will also provide faculty members with a genuine opportunity to get to know you on a personal level. I might add that it is also in your best interest to participate in extracurricular activities. Involvement in activities such as Psi Chi, a Psychology Club, or other professional organizations signals to your faculty member that you are a well-rounded individual (Morgan & Korschgen, 1998).
Many graduate programs in psychology seek undergraduates who not only actively participate in the field of psychology, but who can provide letters of recommendation from faculty members who have firsthand knowledge of those students' abilities and can testify to their overall potential for graduate study (Samonds, 1999). Consistent interaction with your faculty members will give them the opportunity to get to know you better and give them something to write about. This will often provide for an exceptional recommendation letter, thus increasing your chances for graduate school admission. Furthermore, undergraduate faculty with whom you have developed a productive relationship can also serve as "editors" of your personal statement and vita--this too will prove to increase your chances for graduate admission.
In addition to enhancing your academic development, interacting with your faculty members can also be personally beneficial. Frequent faculty interaction will not only increase your sense of satisfaction with your total undergraduate experience, it will also enhance your self-concept (Woodside, Wong, & Wiest, 1999).
Getting to know your undergraduate faculty, which includes formal classroom experiences as well as casual interactions outside of the classroom, is crucial to your academic and personal development. Having "taken the path" themselves, faculty members can often provide insightful advice, guidance, and professional contacts that can enhance your academic growth.
The advantages of getting to know your undergraduate faculty go far beyond the here and now. Their guidance and support will not only aid in your current development, but could also make a significant difference in your future endeavors.
Morgan, B. L., & Korschgen, A. J. (1998, Fall). How do I maximize my chances of getting a good job with an undergraduate psychology degree? Eye on Psi Chi, 3, 27-28.
Olatunji, B. (1999, November). Undergraduate research as an invaluable experience. APS Observer, 12, 24, 27.
Samonds, D. (1999, May/June). Getting into grad school: FAQs. APS Observer, 12, 23.
Woodside, B., Wong, E., & Wiest, D. (1999). The effect of student - faculty interaction on college students' academic achievement and self-concept. Education, 119, 730-734.
[right] Bunmi Olatunji, lower left, is pictured with (from upper left, clockwise) research advisor Dr. Hamid Hekmat, academic advisor Dr. Dennis Elsenrath, and research advisor Dr. Donna Desforges.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Bunmi O. Olatunji wrote this article as an undergraduate at the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point, where he was inducted into Psi Chi in 1998 and then served as chapter president. Olatunji was also a cofounder and president of the Psychological Research Society at the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point. In addition, he served as a research assistant for three years and as research coordinator of the university's Pain Tolerance Lab. Olatunji's research interests include the exploration of the effects of positivism on negative emotional states, and the effects of majority and minority status on emotion and cognition.
As an undergraduate, Olatunji served as a mentor for freshmen and transfer psychology majors. He also presented his research at meetings held at the University of Wisconsin-Lacrosse and at Rockford College in Illinois. Olatunji is a student affiliate of APA and APS, and he served on APS's Undergraduate Conference Affairs Committee. He is now attending the University of Arkansas in the PhD program for clinical psychology.
Fall 2000 issue of Eye on Psi Chi (Vol. 5, No. 1, p. 30), published by Psi Chi, The National Honor Society in Psychology (Chattanooga, TN). Copyright, 2000, Psi Chi, The National Honor Society in Psychology. All rights reserved.