Breaking the Ice: A B-School Primer on Making Faculty Friends

Once upon a time students brought an apple for their teachers to start their relationships off on the right foot. An apple might not be the right approach for MBA students at the start of the school year, but they should try to reap the benefits of a strong rapport with their professors. Here, professors and students share their tips on how to maximize these relationships:

Don’t wait for trouble

Rather than waiting until you’re struggling with something, be proactive about getting in touch, says Sridhar Balasubramanian (known to his students as Dr. B), a marketing professor at UNC’s Kenan-Flagler Business School. Reach out to professors in person, on LinkedIn, and even in the summer, he adds.

Prepare for the meeting

You want your professor to recognize you even if he has 300 students. “Frame your introduction strategically,” suggests Balasubramanian. “Have something memorable to say or demonstrate what is memorable about you.”

Contribute to the class

Consider the syllabus your contract with your professor. Keep up with assignments and ask challenging questions that help you stand out but that also enhance your experience and that of your classmates, says Jeffrey H. Bergstrand, a finance professor at the University of Notre Dame’s Mendoza College of Business.

Show interest in professors’ other work

Ask your professor about his or her research. “A large percentage of business school faculty spend a larger portion of their time conducting research or consulting than teaching MBAs, and they would enjoy the chance to tell you about their research interests and hear your thoughts on it as well,” says Bidhan “Bobby” L. Parmar, an assistant professor at the University of Virginia’s Darden School of Business.

Consider an assistant job

If you truly admire a professor and think the relationship could benefit you throughout your career, consider becoming a research or teaching assistant. Balasubramanian says he remembers his TAs for years afterward and keeps in touch with them.

Include professors in extracurricular activities

The student/faculty band, volunteer opportunities at Habitat for Humanity, and pickup games of basketball are among the ways professors and students interact at the Darden School, says Parmar. These are the kinds of activities that already take place at many business schools and can easily be replicated.

Talk to them about nonacademic stuff, too

Find out what your professors like outside the classroom and talk with them about it. Talk football if they like football; talk wine if they like wine, says Paul Whitmire, a second-year student at Vanderbilt University’s Owen Graduate School of Management. One of his professors took students out to a BBQ lunch once a week to get to know each other better.

Remember the professor after graduation

One of the most heart-warming moments for Balasubramanian is when a student sends a handwritten thank-you note to him at graduation, he says. Reach out to professors, he adds, when you’re on the job and need to hire a consultant or want to partner with them on a research project.

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