There is a certain relationship between students and professors that makes students wary of approaching the people at the front of lecture halls.
Osamah Al-Gayyali, now a third-year Biochemistry student, decided to do something about this. He got the idea while at the Biochemistry Society’s “Meet the Profs” event in his second year, where he could not shake the feeling of fear when approaching professors. Ironically, the event was held specifically with the goal of fostering student professor relations.
When he saw his first semester professor Karun Singh, Al-Gayyali pulled him aside and took a different approach. He asked Singh if he would take a selfie with him. To his surprise, Singh agreed.
“I take my phone out and all of a sudden I see three other biochem students trying to squeeze in … So, I went on for the next two to three weeks, taking selfies with every single professor I knew. Dr. Yang, Dr. Miller, Eric Brown…” recalled Al-Gayyali.
From a single selfie came a collection, and from that collection Professors of McMaster was born. Inspired by Brandon Stanton’s Humans of New York, Al-Gayyali decided to adapt the concept to showing students that professors are approachable.
Al-Gayyali decided that it was time to move past selfies, recruiting Annie Cheng to take pictures for the page instead. Cheng and Al-Gayyali were already well acquainted. In fact, all five team members behind the initiative were in the same biochemistry group.
“Except for Mohammad [Ali Khan]. He was the outsider,” they joked, clearly at ease with one another.
Already two years in the running, the Facebook page for Professors of McMaster is bound to feature at least one professor familiar to any given student. Each post involves a lengthy process.
“From the interviews, we try to get something out of them that they don’t present during lectures and stuff, so more of their personal side. But sometimes profs are uncomfortable with sharing that side of them,” said Cheng.
“So we ask them questions related to their education and history … their interests,” added Ali Khan.
When asked what is so intimidating about professors, the group joked around, saying “they were old and scary.” On a more sombre tone, it became apparent that the fact that professors hold your marks and sometimes even your future in their hands was a big factor. The other was the fear that professors were too wise and busy to glean any benefit from conversations with students – a myth that professors shot down immediately in interviews with Professors of McMaster.
“Because interviews are in their offices, I was worried it would be boring and look the same. But every prof has a different style, I find, which is interesting to me.”
Keeping things in perspective was another important message that professors seemed to communicate. “You know, at the time, you feel like you’re under a lot of strain but, in the grand scheme of things, like one midterm or test isn’t going to define your future. I think that’s an important message to send out to students,” said Nafis Hossain.
While the interviews follow interesting narratives, Cheng says that the pictures tell a story on their own. “When I first went in though, because [interviews are] all in their offices, I was worried it would be boring and look the same. But every prof has a different style, I find, which is interesting to me.”
In the future, Professors of McMaster hopes to start a webpage, where they can post full transcripts and audio clips of the interviews.
Photo Credit: Jon White/ Photo Editor