How to dance with a professor

  I come to this dark place, not because I love writing. I need this moment of reflection at the end of the day to save myself from career and life pitfalls. Here is one: whenever I first met a professor, whom I don’t deify so much, I can reasonably well impress him and get him hooked on. But the more time I spend with this half-god-half-human, the less natural my demeanor becomes and I start to develop mental block due to preoccupation with how best to please the man (or woman). It has been like that since perhaps high school, where I take compliments and encouragements way too seriously than they are intended to be. The result is disastrous. I am no longer able to present the best part of myself because I am too afraid to make minor mistakes. Perfectionism takes over and I found myself chiefly relying on my previous reputation or "silence is the best teacher" kind of philosophy to hang on to my self-sustained confidence. Of course such confidence is fragile and unsubstantiated. My inner world also gets depleted of substance and all I can ruminate on is how not to let people discover any weakness they might not have caught right away.
   But what I missed completely is that one can not hide his shortcomings forever, and in fact the longer they get covered up, the less likely it will be uncovered in a painless way. Imagine going off to an industrial job where your performance is strictly monitored by your overlords. The pain of getting ridiculed in those situations is so much worse than in an academic environment, in which people treat you more or less like kids still. Plus the loss of one feigned virtue returns the pleasure of self-awareness and overcoming the coyness inside a man, a highly noxious trait.
   A professor is like a miner, who doesn’t care how tough a piece of landscape you might be, as long as there are some intellectual values he could exploit. And he, having gone through all the toiling path of a poor student, understands better than anyone how one might behave in an unbecoming way under the stress of learning and keeping up with what’s going on in class. So my suggestion to myself, as well as millions of "curled up" geniuses in the deep ocean of academia, don’t just face your professor with respect and dignity, dance with him, much like you would do to a blind date or something. The more interactive and proactive you present yourself, the more likely he will find you likeable and promising.  The right analogy here is a piece of broken metal piece: no matter how worthless at the moment, it will appreciate dramatically in the hands of a top craftsman, if its melting point is low enough, or is flexible enough to conform to the mold of great utility.
   Thus keeping a little emotional distance with the professor sometimes is also important, just like in the midst of a courtship. A premature close-up with the "man of your future" might result in unnecessary withdrawal when some minor frustration appears to you like a major rejection from the demigod. In essence, professors are not insulted by the notion that their primary meaning of existence is to teach. Why else would they choose not to go off into the industry? They have been warned plentifully throughout their career how much teaching they would have to tolerate in order to secure their positions, so a student’s honest confirmation of that point will not be taken as a spiteful sneer.

About aquazorcarson

math PhD at Stanford, studying probability
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