By Alice Shih • July 25, 2014•Law School, Pre-Law, Curriculum and Classroom Dynamics
Five years ago, it was the summer before I started law school. I knew I was on the brink of a life-changing three years, and I wanted to be prepared. So I read blogs regarding work load, the Socratic method, legal writing, and more. But none of these articles prepared me for the change I saw in myself once I was in the law school classroom. I never had trouble speaking in class before law school or approaching professors, but all of a sudden, I felt like I knew so little and speaking in class became a real challenge for me.
After a few weeks, I shared my fears with other women in my class and they too told me that they had never lacked in confidence until they came to law school. I do not think this is a gender specific problem, but I noticed that more of my women than men friends now seemed to be afflicted with this sudden adulthood lack of confidence. Curious about this social phenomenon, I helped run a Yale Law Women study on gender dynamics in the law school classroom. These are some tips based on that study that helped me overcome fears. I hope they can help you as well as you start law school.
Speak in Class
You will get more out of the classes that you participate in and participating will allow the professor to get to know you. I used to get so nervous about speaking in class that my face would flush, my chest would tighten, and my palms would sweat just at the thought of raising my hand. When I finally confided in some friends, they shared with me that they too were nervous. So we devised some ways to help us speak in class.
1. Break the ice early. Make it a goal to speak in each class early in the semester. Our study showed that a student’s first time to speak in a class was the most difficult. However, once the ice was broken, students were more likely to participate in future classes.
2. Speak Up Pact. Make a pact with other women (or men) to each speak at least once a week in your class. Then encourage each other after you speak to build confidence. This also creates accountability. When you know you have a support team, it eases anxiety, making it easier to speak in class.
Get to Know Your Professors
There are many reasons for getting to know your professors. Professionally, they can be your recommenders. Academically, they are at the forefront of their field and are interesting to talk to. And underneath all that professorial wisdom, they’re just people who often enjoy your company. Here are some ways to get to know your professors.
1. Visit office hours. Whether it’s a question about the reading or life advice, visit office hours as often as you’re able to. In our study, we found that 70% men vs. 47% women reported they were comfortable attending scheduled office hours. Stop feeling shy---you are entitled to the faculty’s time! Even if your professor does not have dedicated office hours, e-mail the professor to set up a time to meet with him or her.
2. Strategy. Invest in relationships with a small number of faculty that you feel like you can connect with or who specialize in a field you’re interested in. A few strong recommenders are better than a large number of professors who barely know you. Remember, a faculty-student relationship is like any other type of relationship: it takes time and due diligence to build and maintain.