So you got a job with your prof: advice for undergrads

Ah, undergraduates.  We college profs love to snark in your general direction.  The cute Ugg boots and Vera Bradley bags, or maybe the skater hair and torn backpack. Whatever.  You just landed a job working for a prof!  Congrats.  Now what?

Show the f*** up.  If you are never there, you are not doing the job.  Many undergrads prioritize everything over their job — homework, exam studying, social time.  After all, it’s not a full time job and you probably aren’t that well paid.  Professors certainly understand that there may be weeks (midterms, finals) when your job is going on the back burner.  But if the job is never a priority, you are going to look like a flake who promises and then doesn’t produce.  No one expects you to walk in knowing the job, but if you are never there, you can’t learn the job either.

Take notes.  If you are being trained to do something — even if it looks simple — take notes.  Your prof may be happy to answer questions but will not want to explain everything to you again because you forgot “how to do that” over the weekend.

Be humble.  You are probably going to be given the drudge work of the discipline.  Do it.  It’s something profs have done and usually continue to do, and they will be unsympathetic to the complaint that it’s boring.  Besides, you are building a relationship – not just photocopying.  If you show you are dedicated to doing a good job at the repetitive tasks, you are more likely to be moved to more interesting projects.  It’s a test. Don’t flunk it.

Be a problem-solver. No prof wants to be bugged with questions that you could have answered yourself.   Figure out who on campus can help you.  Computer problem? Call IT.  Photocopier? Ask the secretary.  Instruction manual? Check the internet.  Check all reasonable avenues to solve the problem before approaching the prof — and then say what you did to try to solve this on your own.

Be a good departmental colleague.  Your behavior reflects on your prof, and will get back to him or her.  Don’t leave your backpack and books scattered on the lounge sofa, or food rotting in the department refrigerator.  And DO NOT bother other profs in the department unless your prof tells you to approach them specifically about their particular expertise.  That young female professor?  She’s not there to change the printer cartridge for you.

Do not get your parents involved.  You are an adult. Act like it. If you have a parent who is the crazy type who might intervene without your permission, this is a good time to practice not telling them everything – like who you are working for.

Quit, don’t just disappear.  If you have to leave the job, don’t just stop showing up.  Quit.  If possible, try not to leave your prof in the lurch with unfinished projects, and offer to train your replacement.  Even if your prof doesn’t take you up on this, he or she will appreciate the thought.

Remember that your prof sees something in you.  Seriously, we don’t hire the kids sitting at the back of the room scratching themselves while checking their MySpace accounts on the rare occasions they bother to come to class.  If you’ve been offered a job, it’s because the prof thinks you have potential.  Probably long term potential, because no prof wants to spend time training someone who’s only going to work for a semester.  Don’t disappoint.  If your prof is worth anything, he or she will return the favor.