Networking in post-secondary school, or the value of polishing apples

In university, I was the student who visited faculty and teaching assistants during office hours: the browner, the apple polisher, the teacher’s pet, etc. Yep, that was me and I am not ashamed to say so.

As a former TA myself, I know how boring it can be to sit at a desk during office hours tap-tap-tapping away just waiting for someone—anyone—to ask you a question about a test, assignment or even your life story.

You see, chatting with TAs and faculty is an underrated form of networking. These people stand between you and good grades, acceptance into a graduate program or even a job.

Now, although I never gave the gift of a perfectly shined Red Delicious apple, I always made sure to leave a positive impression in order to stand out amongst the hundreds of other faces in the lecture hall. When done right, you can establish a working relationship with a professor or TA, one that can help swing the pendulum in your favour when it comes to grading or reference letters.

When I was a TA, over the course of an entire year, I had only three students visit me during office hours. Yup, just three. Only one of them really stood out. Let’s call her Jane.

Jane was a textbook keener who was assigned a paper that made her feel instantly overwhelmed. Her topic was incredibly dry, but she quickly resolved to make it as interesting and readable as possible. It wasn’t easy. She met with me several times to discuss her ideas and seek advice to help her leap through the hurdles that stood in her way in order to get it done right. In the end, she received a great grade from me on her paper, even if it was (I’ll be honest) a little boring. I knew she had worked incredibly hard.

As a TA or professor, you cannot give a student a good grade simply because they had met with you—that would be unethical—but Jane actually earned it! Even though her paper lacked a certain “pizzazz,” it was very well written. And because I was aware of the great lengths she went to in order to do what she could with a very lacklustre topic, her efforts were rewarded. That is known as discretion, and it applies in the working world, too.

A year or so later, Jane contacted me again for help on another assignment she was working on. I was no longer her TA, but I remembered her work ethic and I did what I could for her.

Whether you’re at a workplace, volunteering or still in school, networking is essential. Selling yourself shouldn’t just be reserved for a job interview. In fact, most of the jobs I have had in my life have come about through some form of networking. In one instance, a professor of mine recommended me to his former colleague.

Networking is paramount in today’s job market. Start using any new opportunities to build connections and maintain them over the years. School is just one more place to collect names for your contacts list, even if it means you’ve got to polish some apples in order to get them.

Has networking in school ever paid off for you?

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