The connections you make while an undergraduate will prove the bedrock of most of your future endeavors and those relationships shouldn’t be taken for granted. We’ve already introduced the importance of strong recommendation letters, which should come from strong connections with individuals across campus and in your larger community. But, you will also find that connections that extend beyond the confines of UT are equally important, especially when developing a strategic plan for your future. By establishing strong relationships on campus early on, you can benefit from your own faculty’s connections within your discipline but also around the country and world. And, when the time comes to begin looking into graduate and professional programs, considering spending time overseas, and certainly when developing a strong scholarship application, having already established connections nationally and internationally will put you in an exceptional position to make the most of the experience you are seeking.
- Populate your strategic navigational plan with key contacts following careful research into your discipline(s), identifying leaders in your academic field as well as those active in the things you care about or are interested in becoming a part of (service learning, undergraduate research, fine and performing arts opportunities, international study, etc.). Do this by reaching out UT faculty, professional staff, graduate students, and your colleagues and peers who will have their own network of connections. Make an effort to reach out early on in your undergraduate experience and try to identify experiences that will allow you to meet potential connections.
- Do your homework! Before making use of office hours or sending an e-mail, make a point to read a bit about that person may be doing in the field. Chances are they have a CV available on their departmental website and it would be worth your effort to make a quick study of their recent publications. Of course, you needn’t understand everything you read, but it shows a good deal of initiative and will prime the pump for conversation. Hint: use a similar plan of attack when approaching a faculty member about getting involved in undergraduate research with them. Show some excitement knowing that, hopefully, they are pretty excited about what they do too.
- Have a portfolio of materials in hand to leave with them should that be appropriate. Usually a CV will suffice but if you are reaching out by email, give some time and attention to drafting a very brief but informative description of your professional goals, academic and research interests and preparation. As with any form of professional communication, make sure your emails and written correspondence is clear, concise, and grammatically correct. And, please refrain from engaging in abbreviated or “twitter-fied” forms of communication; there is still an art to formal correspondence and you should master it. For further guidance on e-mail and letter-writing etiquette, refer to our ‘Emily Post Had It Right’ page.
- If you are requesting a formal Letter of Affiliation (Fulbright), for support on a project, or to enquire as to the potential of joining a research team, graduate department, or consulting relevant resources, be specific about your project, your aims, your preparation, and what ‘support’ actually means for them. And, even then, your e-mail or letter still needs to be very brief and to the point. We go into the specifics of a Letter of Affiliation on our dedicated Fulbright page.
As with all of your efforts in reaching out, don’t be discouraged if it takes time and a number of inquiries before you receive the hoped for response. Be patient and remember that everyone is busy. Give yourself, and your potential contacts, plenty of time in advance of any particular deadlines and remember, press on! Your perseverance will pay off.
“Only connect the prose and the passion, and both will be exalted, and human love will be seen at its highest. Live in fragments no longer.” – E.M. Forster, Howards End