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September 5, 2011 9:52 PM   Subscribe

Re-connecting with possibly supportive professor. What's the best way to do this?

I have, for the past year, been on medical leave from college due to mental health issues. My departure at the end of the 2009-2010 year was abrupt, and I was not able to say my good-byes and tie up loose ends the way I would have liked, which generally made me feel like a jerk and as though I have thrown away most of the friendships/connections I made that year (also my first at the college). Now I'm back, and am wondering how best to re-connect with a professor I had who was highly supportive of my academic work. I am especially worried because I have had very little contact with them since I left. I last had contact with her early this year, when she e-mailed to check up on me; I replied, and she replied to my reply, but I did not keep up the correspondence due to some rather aggressive anxious/depressive thoughts I was having at the time (which is another story).

So, I am feeling quite guilty about this. I am very grateful for all she has done for me, even if I feel my behavior says otherwise. I would also like very much to regain her academic/professional support without looking opportunistic in that it appears I just assumed she would still be willing to mentor me.

So, these are the options I'm mulling:

1) I could e-mail her. This seems the obvious choice, but as I am still waiting on FinAid, I am not yet able to register for classes (although I will be). I am pre-registered for a few of her classes, but if I e-mail her, I don't particularly want to explain why I'm not on her class roster yet, as, quite frankly, I'm a bit embarrassed.

2) I could just show up in class (when I'm able to). This seems the least attractive option, as I would imagine she would feel blindsided/miffed, maybe? by the fact that I didn't even try to say hi or anything before classes began. But perhaps I'm assuming too much.

3) I could stop by her office sometime during the day, before my first class with her meets. This seems like the best option, as I may know by then whether or not I'm able to register yet.

I know I'm probably overthinking this, but I am genuinely curious about etiquette/propriety in this situation, or if I even have anything to worry about. Thank you for any advice you can give.
posted by gypsyroseme to Human Relations (11 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
In her posted office hours, with possibly an email as a heads-up. Check with her dept. office to see when those are--they'll probably be keeping track.
posted by LucretiusJones at 9:59 PM on September 5, 2011

I'd email her, with a brief aside that you're coming back to school after taking some time off for personal/medical reasons, and let her know that you'd like to stop by and say hello. Chances are that she'll be delighted to hear from you, and it gives her the chance to suggest a good time to stop by so that she'll be there and you won't be interrupting anything.

I do think that you're overthinking it a bit and that you have nothing to worry about. Students leave and come back all the time. Even if you were very important to her, I seriously doubt that she's upset with you or will get upset about whatever manner you choose to come back. Don't assume that you're as important in her life as she is in yours, and don't assume that your embarrassment at the way things unfolded is matched by any animus or hurt on her part. If she liked you then, she'll like you now, regardless of how you get back in touch.
posted by decathecting at 9:59 PM on September 5, 2011 [5 favorites]

So, I have some mental health issues, too, and here are some things I have done as a result:
-Sent a thank-you note one year late.
-Sent a thank-you note TWO years late.
-Given a wedding gift ten months after the wedding.

Do you know what happened in EACH of those cases? The person I wrote to or got in touch with thanked me profusely or wrote me back a nice note saying how happy they were to hear from me.

What I'm saying is, just email your professor. She will be happy to hear from you. I would write something like this (I so love scripts):

Dr. Finklebaum, Thanks so much for emailing me and checking in- I'm sorry I've been such an intermittent correspondent! It's so great to hear from people at COLLEGE, especially since I enjoyed CLASS with you so much. I took last year off to address some personal (or medical, if you want) problems, but I am on track to be back this/next semester. Once everything gets settled, I hope I'm able to take OTHER CLASS with you- it looks really interesting! Thanks again for checking in with me, hope to see you around campus this semester!

With tweaks, obviously, for whatever your email chain is or whatever you've been talking about. Your professor isn't mad at you. She doesn't think you're a jerk. She doesn't hate you. She wouldn't be upset to see you just walk into class one day either. Here is what she thinks, "Gosh, I hope everything is okay with gypsyroseme. She's a neat person, I hope she comes back to school." Seriously, it's okay to just email.
posted by Snarl Furillo at 10:22 PM on September 5, 2011 [8 favorites]

Your professor isn't mad at you. She doesn't think you're a jerk. She doesn't hate you. She wouldn't be upset to see you just walk into class one day either. Here is what she thinks, "Gosh, I hope everything is okay with gypsyroseme. She's a neat person, I hope she comes back to school." Seriously, it's okay to just email.


I would email her and say the following:

Dear Professor Jones,

I just wanted to give you my deepest thanks for the academic and personal support you've shown to me, and for repeatedly checking up on me while I was on medical leave, even when I dropped out of contact. I am very grateful for all you have done for me. I want to apologize that my departure at the end of last year was so abrupt, and that I was out of contact for so long. I struggled with tying things up the way I would have liked, and I regret that because it didn't convey the gratefulness I felt.

I am pre-registered for a few of your classes, while I wait to finish the re-admission process and be added to the official roster. I really look forward to seeing you again and hope this past year has been a good one for you.

posted by Ashley801 at 10:37 PM on September 5, 2011 [4 favorites]

If things are back on track and you don't need anything in particular, just send an email expressing your gratitude for her earlier support. Let her know it meant a lot to you, and that you think things are back on track and wanted her to know she made a difference. That's it.

Visiting her office hours and whatnot is fine, but I've had a lot of students that I cared about who were nonetheless just a tiny bit exhausting, socially. Your note will give her the chance to suggest coming by, or maybe you'll just see her in class.

Your default assumption should be that she recognized your potential, sympathized with your situation, and gave you some encouraging words that helped. Those are great reasons to get into her classes again, and she'll assume from your note and your solid academic work that you're also doing well personally.

If she doesn't ask for more details or encourage your to visit, go to her office hours when you have actual questions about the material. You should mainly be seeking her expertise rather than coaxing her approval/friendship. If she gives you that too, it's just icing on the cake.
posted by Monsieur Caution at 10:40 PM on September 5, 2011 [2 favorites]

Your professor liked you enough to contact you outside of class (outside of you even being actively enrolled it seems!) to make sure you're doing ok. Don't hesitate to email her. I know that anxiety of responding to email weeks or months late, but you're starting fresh with your fall(?) term so just go ahead and start again with the prof. The scripts above are great places to start from. She'll be glad to hear you, and I very much doubt the kind of person who would check in with an undergrad on a year off is going to be the kind of person who's miffed you didn't respond about non-schoolwork things late.
posted by asciident at 11:46 PM on September 5, 2011

Ashley801 nailed it!
I had a student on my Master's programme in exactly this situation, I worried about him and when I finally heard back (I had an alert in my calendar every 3 months to send a message with some news from the course, or just general Uni gossip) after he'd responded to just one of the three e-mails, he sent me an e-mail quite similar to the one she wrote. I was relieved and pleased.

I agree that you're slightly overthinking this but I think that's natural given what's happened in your life over this past period. Supportive lecturers don't change their spots and she will probably have quite a bit of experience of ebb and flow in the student body for all sorts of reasons but if she's anything like you've described she'll be pleased to hear from you.
posted by Wilder at 3:36 AM on September 6, 2011

I'd send something like Snarl Furillo or Ashley801's emails above. No need to give details about the leave (you can even just say "while I was away last year" if you don't want to mention that the leave was medical) and there's definitely no need to hash through the bad things that may have happened. Say hi, how happy you are to be back and to be taking her class as soon as you finalize the registration process, and that you look forward to stopping by during office hours soon.
posted by Forktine at 6:34 AM on September 6, 2011

Agreed, that this is not as big a deal for her as it is for you. Students fall off the face of the Earth and pop up again all the time. Medical leaves happen.

A quick email briefly expressing your regret at not maintaining contact, explaining that you're waiting for aid to come through, and expressing your enthusiasm for the class should be sufficient to touch base with her as the semester begin.

She'll be happy to hear from you.
posted by BrashTech at 7:54 AM on September 6, 2011

I know I'm probably overthinking this, but I am genuinely curious about etiquette/propriety in this situation, or if I even have anything to worry about.

Every college student in the world seems to think that there is some sort of Top Secret University Etiquette Rulebook, and that they're the only one who didn't get a copy.

(I was totally like this in college. My parents were both college professors, and so I totally should have known better — and yet I still felt like there must have been Top Secret Rules that my parents hadn't told me, and I worried constantly that I had offended someone by breaking them.)

Anyway, I'm here to tell you, there's no secret rulebook. It would be perfectly normal and acceptable to send email. Ditto for showing up in class; ditto for showing up at office hours. Any of the three would come across as friendly, polite and enthusiastic.

Don't show up naked on her doorstep at 3am covered in some weird mucilaginous substance. Don't burn the words "HI PROF" into her lawn with gasoline. Don't hide under her desk and greet her with strange gurgling noises when she sits down. Those would be bad ways of making contact. But any normal way that normal people get in contact in a normal non-academic setting? Would be perfectly normal here too.
posted by nebulawindphone at 9:29 AM on September 6, 2011 [3 favorites]

Thanks for all your great answers! I was able to register this afternoon, and shortly after sent a brief, polite e-mail mostly emphasizing that I was looking forward to taking her class. All of your responses were a great help.
posted by gypsyroseme at 1:47 PM on September 6, 2011 [1 favorite]

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