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8 Career Questions to Ask Your Online Professor


Students may not realize it, but one of the great benefits of online courses is the number of adjunct instructors. This group of educators, mostly part-time, faces a lot of challenges related to employment, but brings a valuable perspective to the classroom, one that tenured faculty may not have had in a while – practical experience outside of academia.

As I look back at my favorite undergraduate and graduate professors, I realize that many were adjuncts remembered because of their different approach to the classroom and great stories filled with examples and scenarios from first-hand experience in the professional workplace. This can be relevant to a wide range of employment situations and academic disciplines. History students, for example, can learn about practical applications from teaching to archival research through their instructors. One of the most influential adjunct professors in a business course I completed was not only a skilled instructor, but also active in his own company and as a community business leader.

Are you making the most of this kind of perspective in your own online courses? Consider asking relevant questions about careers and the world of work after graduation. Here are a few ideas:

  1. How did you get started? Everyone’s career is a story in and of itself and it’s not unusual to arrive at a destination different from the one you aimed for in the beginning. Details about your professor’s early career may be available in a posted bio or resume and can spark your exploration in new directions.
  2. Where should I get involved in professional networking? This shows that you are aware of the importance of networking, but may need some advice for identifying new avenues and activities. Follow ups might include asking about a favorite conference event or recommended professional organization, or even connecting on a social networking site like LinkedIn.
  3. What should I be reading? From blog posts and newsletters to books and journals, who are the leaders in your field right now and where are they publishing their work? Take this a step further and add your instructor’s suggestions to your reading list, then get started.
  4. Can you introduce me to … ? Your instructor may be working at or with an organization of particular interest to you, or mention professional connections in class that would also be helpful additions to your network. It will help, of course, if you are a good student in this course and someone your professor might be willing to recommend.
  5. Where (and how) should I look for my next job? Every industry seems to have its own culture and preferences about where and how openings are posted and filled. Seek advice about the best sources in your field and the most effective use of your time. Also note that with this kind of question you are not asking for a job, but instead for information. It could lead to a discussion of specific companies or organizations that are actively hiring, but it may not.
  6. What’s the hottest thing right now? This question speaks to trends. Are there new technologies or approaches to the work you want to do? Find out how your field of study is evolving and where those in the profession currently focus their attention. Think about sub-fields as well. A student studying the sciences, for example, may want to know where the most growth is happening, such as with research and technology, and in specific industries.
  7. What other industries might need my skills? New occupations and career fields are quickly emerging. And a tough job market often means looking for opportunities both inside and outside those that have been traditionally available. Your instructor’s ideas and opinions may help you identify new areas to research.
  8. What else should I do? What else should I learn? Not unrelated to the item above, gaining additional knowledge and skills can not only make you stand out as an applicant, but also give you an advantage on-the-job as a new employee. What would your professor recommend? A nursing student might benefit from a public speaking course, for example, and an art student from marketing. Internships, volunteer efforts, and part-time jobs can also help you boost your experience. Keep in mind that you can continue to learn and gain skills in a variety of ways from adding coursework to your schedule (which may result in added tuition or extend time to graduation) to short-term workshops and open learning options.

Career advising and course instruction have traditionally been separate activities at the college level, but times are changing. As career and employment goals become more central to students’ motivation for enrollment, you’ll find more integration between the two, as well as with other aspects of student support, such as academic advising.

Keep in mind that not all of your professors will be interested in providing career advice. Before diving in with your questions, ask if they would be willing to share and how they prefer to communicate (i.e., email, a live call, or even in a Q&A session with the class). And don’t ask all of these questions at once! It could come off as pushy or intrusive. Pick one and get the conversation started.

What other career questions would you like to ask your professors?

Image credit: Valerie Everett, Flickr, CC:BY-SA

March 25th, 2013 written by Staff Writers

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