Posts Tagged ‘mentors’

Finding Your Mentors

Tuesday, October 3rd, 2023

One piece of advice that I received from nearly everyone prior to starting college was to make connections with my professors as much as possible. Networking and establishing relationships with professional mentors are an especially important aspect of being a film student, but something that I was unsure of how to approach as a relatively introverted person.

The difficult part about college is that it is more valuable and important to make those professional connections than ever before. However, it is also way more difficult to get to know your college professors than, for example, your high school teachers. It is entirely dependent on you to take the initiative in reaching out to professors, whether through attending their office hours or sending them an email. It is a lot easier said than done.

For one, professors can be incredibly intimidating when you only know them in a classroom setting. In my case, while I’m not in the largest course at my college, the film professors are still lecturing in front of 70+ people every week. They don’t know your name, they don’t know your interests or your abilities, they don’t even know if you’re attending class every week or if you’ve never shown up. So how in the world are you supposed to make yourself known and stand out from the crowd?

My experience reaching out to a professor for the first time was more one of desperation than anything. In my second semester of my first year, my mental health was at an all-time low. I was questioning every class I was taking, how I was spending my time, and whether or not I was on the right path for where I wanted to be in the future. On a phone call with my dad, I was going through the usual complaints and frustrations I had been expressing the entire semester, when he suggested having a conversation with one of my professors.

Now, I was very skeptical of the idea at first. I had never emailed one of my professors about anything other than assignment details, let alone had a sit-down conversation with one. The conversation would also essentially entail me telling my professor straight to their face that I wasn’t enjoying the subject they basically have dedicated their entire life to…scary. But, with more than a little pressure from my parents, I emailed a few of my film professors asking if any of them would be willing to have a short conversation with me about my studies.

I arranged a meeting after class with one professor and was practically shaking the entire class with fear of what was to come. To make things worse, at the end of the class, the professor read my name out loud in front of everyone. It would be an understatement to say my confidence in the upcoming conversation was low. But it was too late to back out, so I shakily walked up to the front of the class while everyone else filtered out the back. 

My professor invited me to sit down, and I was surprised right off the bat by how friendly and understanding she was about my situation. I expressed how I wasn’t feeling challenged by how introductory all of my classes had been up to that point, and how there were so many other subjects I was interested in that I was afraid I had chosen the wrong one. 

She wasn’t upset or taken aback by my feelings, and she wasn’t even entirely surprised with how underwhelmed I felt by everything. She reminded me that first-year classes are inevitably going to be introductory, and that if I can stick through the beginning, there will be many opportunities further down the line to find offshoots in film studies that connect with my other interests. She told me about some future research opportunities I could get involved in, as well as recommending some additional readings to give me deeper insight into the kinds of things we were learning about in class.

Thanks to my professor’s advice, I started watching more material outside of class assignments to further explore my other interests!

Overall, I walked away from the conversation feeling a lot more confident in myself, in my path, and in my abilities to seek out resources to make my college experience right for me. I was proud of myself for making the effort to reach out and ask for help and was delightfully surprised by how willing my professor was to give me advice. 

I think it’s important to remember that professors were once students too. In fact, you could even consider professors to be life-long students, since they are constantly engaging with and learning from the information in their field. They know what it’s like to struggle with learning things, or to struggle with feeling like you’re not learning enough, so don’t be afraid to reach out and ask for help when you need it.

While your early college interactions with professors can help you capitalize on your active college experience, the relationships you form early on can also help you with future things like research opportunities or recommendation letters. From my experience, I would recommend reaching out to professors for the first time when you feel like you could benefit from their support in their studies. That way, when the time comes that you are looking for a project to work on or a reference for an application, the relationship has already been formed naturally instead of purely on a transactional level.

One last point I’d like to stress is that mentors can be found everywhere. Professors aren’t the only option – there are counselors, clubs, administrators, and even visiting speakers that can help give you advice and support in your studies. I can guarantee you that, although it’s easy to feel alone, there are so many people out there who have felt and gone through the exact same things as you. Instead of being intimidated by their success and status, remember that they were in your position once too, and that is exactly why they are the perfect people to go to for advice.


  • I was intimidated by reaching out to professors at first
  • After a period of constantly questioning my pathway, my parents encouraged me to ask my professor for advice
  • I was nervous but surprised by how kind and helpful my professor was in our sit-down conversation
  • Establishing professional connections in a natural way can help you down the line in your career
  • Mentors can be found all throughout the college community

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By Bella Littler

Bella is a second year film student within the Trinity College Dublin / Columbia Dual BA program. She grew up in Iowa, but is currently living and studying in Dublin. On the average day, you can find her watching obscure movies, going on aimless walks around the city, or raving about any and all Taylor Swift lyrics.

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Thursday, May 13th, 2010

The best advice I can possibly give to an undergraduate is to find a professor, advisor, or dean that you trust and can talk to. Being in such a big city and being part of a huge sea of classmates can be intimidating and there are many times that having help is essential.

Last year I found my mentor, a professor I had had the previous semester for a Philosophy lecture. I liked him so much I took a smaller class in order to get to know him better. His class was intellectually stimulating and interesting and I found myself actually excited to go to his class every day. He did not teach any undergraduate classes this past semester; so unfortunately, I had to sign up for some courses that I was not so passionate about. A few weeks into the semester I found myself having serious problems with one of my professors. He practically ignored me in class, gave me bad grades on essays, and seemed to scoff at everything I said. When the problem got to be too much to handle, I went to my mentor to ask for advice. He told me how to approach the dean of Philosophy to explain the situation and offered to do an independent study with me so I could get the credits that I needed to graduate. He helped me figure out how to deal with my current professor in the meantime. He also helped my psychologically, by explaining that I had done nothing wrong in my dealings with this professor and that situations such as mine sometimes just happen.

Not only did he take me on as a student and build a course around my needs, but he also helped me with the other classes I was taking. I told him about my struggle with Logic, a course that was way too much like math for me to understand. He supplied me with links to online textbooks so I could practice, and, even though Logic was not his strong suite, he spend his time re-explaining the material that I did not understand in class.

While I suppose I could have dealt with my professor and found tutors on my own, the simple fact that I had a central person to talk to and who knew the ins and outs of my college was indispensable to me. When you go to college in a city like New York, it is so easy to get lost amongst the masses and get swallowed up whole. And college is such a confusing time of self-discovery and red tape. The best thing to do for yourself is find someone who can help guide you to the finish line.

-Emily S

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