salvaging an old professional relationship ...or not
August 24, 2006 4:36 AM   Subscribe

Does my flaky departure and subsequent lack of fame / distinction make corresponding a no-no with this former professional associate?

A few years ago, I worked with a professor and a student group on a research project. My reliability and dedication apparently impressed the prof, and I was liked. However, once the project ended and a new one began, there was really no role for me to take. The prof said that if I could come up with an idea, they would work on it with me. Basically, I never came up with anything. The prof offered me a role on their project, but I wasn't proactive enough to find an area of it that needed my services. I stopped going, they stopped contacting me.

I've felt badly ever since, especially because I really admired this prof. I'd like to make contact now and maybe correspond from time to time, but I'm embarassed at how things ended. I'm also embarassed because I haven't achieved the fame / distinction of most of his other students. Many students wanted to work with him, and he picked me, and I feel like I "wasted" his efforts because I haven't gone on to become anything too distinguished.

So do I make contact anyway, or does my flaky departure and subsequent lack of fame make correspondence an etiquette no-no? If I do make contact, what do I say after all this time?
posted by anonymous to Education (11 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
What's the downside? Worst that happens is he ignores your entreaty.

If I do make contact, what do I say after all this time?

What do you want to talk to him about?
posted by commander_cool at 4:49 AM on August 24, 2006

Academic AWOL
posted by MzB at 5:09 AM on August 24, 2006 [1 favorite]

Just one pointer, if you do make contact: have ready, if needed, some semblance of a project or interest, etc., that he could help you as not to appear in (or wind up in) the same situation after re-establishing contact.
posted by little miss manners at 5:30 AM on August 24, 2006

I've seen similar situations with people dropping in and out of the art community. My experience has been that if your are serious, and can demonstrate that by bringing valuable or interesting discussion/research to the table, many people will be openminded. It is my sense that most creative or research based environments are open to individual quirks.

If it is simply to re-establish a connection as a friend, what do you have to lose? A cup of coffee with an old student is a pretty common occurrence. I would simply make it easy for the Prof to say yes (location, time of year during the school schedule ...).
posted by R. Mutt at 6:51 AM on August 24, 2006

If what you did with him helped shape your interests and career where you are now - whether or not you think what you're doing is as "distinguished" as the other students - he will certainly be glad to just hear that from you, even if you aren't requesting anything more at the moment. That also leaves the door open to coming back later (letters of recommendation, using his professional network...).
posted by whatzit at 7:12 AM on August 24, 2006

Professors like being contacted by past students. He is probably curious about you, too. If you are contacting him just to see what is new and how he is doing, well that is really nice. Good for you. You may see your departure as flaky, but he may think to himself now and then "It's a shame I didn't find another good role in my lab for Anonymous, they were a good worker and I let them slip away." In between your time working with him and now, he has dealt with hundreds of students who have proven to be much more flaky than you (btw, just because you couldn't think of an idea doesn't make you flaky. Thinking of research ideas is as difficult as it gets.)
posted by Eringatang at 7:14 AM on August 24, 2006

Why do you want to contact this professor? An answer to this might help in providing some advice.
posted by bluesky43 at 7:18 AM on August 24, 2006

Professor here. From your own description, I am not seeing the flakiness. You finished the project for which you were responsible, and then drifted away. Flaky is disappearing in the middle of a project, and we have students do that all the time. If the professor has a mental file for you, it reads "Reliable Student who Wasn't Around for Long." That goes in a whole different file cabinet than flaky and other problem students.

Professors feel invested in their students and love to hear back from them. And don't be embarrassed by your perceived lack of success. The professor has former students who flaked and flunked out, who were caught cheating on exams, who are in jail. You just hear about the small percentage who have been very successful. By all means drop an email and say hello.
posted by LarryC at 7:18 AM on August 24, 2006

The professor has former students who flaked and flunked out, who were caught cheating on exams, who are in jail. You just hear about the small percentage who have been very successful. By all means drop an email and say hello.

Anecdotal: A year or two after I graduated college, I was back on campus and bumped into one of my old professors, who was coming out of a faculty party of some sort. It felt a bit awkward, because I had lost contact with him after a disagreement. He asked what I was doing. I told him. He turned around, walked back into the party, and yelled, "Hey, I got an alumni of ours out here, and we didn't fuck this one up!" The room cheered.

Contact him. He'll be thrilled to hear from you.
posted by NotMyselfRightNow at 8:03 AM on August 24, 2006 [7 favorites]

i agree with those above -- doesn't sound at all like you were flaky, simply that you had no role in the new project.

if you're in a good place in your life and you want to re-establish a connection, by all means get in touch!
posted by sdn at 9:45 PM on August 24, 2006

If you want to contact him, why not do it and let him decide whether you are worth his time?
posted by owhydididoit at 10:02 PM on August 25, 2006

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