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My professor and I walk to and from for every class I have with her, I am a female senior student and my professor is in her 30's. I've gotten to know her really well, we even had a random dinner together. I go to her office hours everyday and share a coffee or cookie. I go to her for many incidents, including a man who has been harassing her and me. She has a partner who she mentions all the time and she even tells me about her family situations back home. We've had several meetings with the University officials and discuss them afterwards. We email constantly, I consider her a friend or a mentor.

I'm curious to know where the boundaries are between my Professor and me (student)? What is the difference between a Mentor and Friend for professors and does it apply to me?

  • 3
    Answer to the title: yes, no problem. But the title might not reflect the question very well? – Mark Oct 26 '17 at 17:31
  • To the extent this is a problem it seems like it's more your professor's responsibility to worry about than yours, doesn't it? – Casey Oct 27 '17 at 18:27
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    To be clear, you do not have romantic feelings for her? – corsiKa Oct 27 '17 at 19:51
  • There's a line in "Good Will Hunting" movie, where Will hugs his psychiatrist and says: Does this violate the uh...patient-doctor relationship? And he responds: No, unless you grab my a**. (you get the idea...) – polfosol Oct 28 '17 at 12:16
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In my opinion professors are normal people and can have friends as everyone else, as long as it does not affect your grades and how you are treated in the classroom. I used to give classes where I taught my friend who I started studies at the same university with (he took a few gap years...). In the classroom and when grading exams and homeworks I treated him exactly as other students.

There is also a possibility that your institution's code of conduct has regulations pertaining to this situation. Nevertheless, they should be more of concern for your professor than you.

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    For sure, if OP ever finds herself saying "But I thought we were friends?!" in response to a purely academic action, there's a problem. In truth the real betrayal would be covering up an academic deficiency to preserve the friendship. – corsiKa Oct 27 '17 at 19:54
10

A level is friendship is fine. There's a difficult dividing line for the friendship may prevent the professor from being impartial.

From my own perspective, I'm interested in my students and want them to do well. I'm also keen to know how they're getting on with their studies and their preparation for employment. That automatically brings with it a level of friendliness.

In many cases, I also have a duty as a personal tutor. Part of that means keeping an interest in a student's welfare and helping to put support in place when necessary (it doesn't necessarily mean that I'm an expert in this support, but it does mean knowing who to refer students on to for it).

In many cases, it's much better to talk over a coffee.

A student might find me eating lunch in the canteen and that might be the best time for the time they feel comfortable talking to me. To me, that's generally fine too.

And I certainly know of professors who go above and beyond the call of duty to keep in contact with students when they're worried about them, for instance when there may be mental health issues involved. That can be the right thing to do in some situations.

Likewise, I've often gone out of my way to support students who want to push themselves academically or explore their options. I want students to do well, so if that means staying late to talk through ideas, sometimes best done with the aid of a beer, that's fine too. Likewise, I've encouraged students to join extra-curricular activities that might benefit them (such as tech communities), some of which I attend, so there can be some social crossover there too.

There are definitely former students who considered me as a mentor (and, I still stay in contact with many of them - some still consider me a mentor even years after they graduated).

I still remember when I started university, the very first meeting between a small group of us and a tutor involved him pouring a large glass of whiskey for everyone in the room (probably an expensive whiskey, but I wouldn't have known the difference). And, there were a lot of social events which, if you didn't take part in them, the tutors would have been worried about you. So, culturally, a certain level of friendship would be both expected and encouraged.

Now, that doesn't completely answer the original question regarding where the dividing line is.

For the example given, this does sound like a very close relationship. The danger would be if other students think that the friendship has crossed the line, or that they feel that they are missing out on a similar level of contact.

If the professor is happy and able to teach and assess you impartially, that's fine. But if the way her time is being monopolised (for instance taking up her office hours every day) means that she's not able to concentrate on her other duties, you might want to cut back, if only to be fair to her.

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    "A level is friendship is fine." Did that sentence get mangled? I don't understand it. ("A level of friendship is fine"?) – David Richerby Oct 27 '17 at 17:42
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I am friendly with my students, but I keep boundaries, even if I would like some of them as friends.

Yes, you can say you treat them the same when grading etc, but this can lead to problems of appearance, for you and them, and also disappointment in the student if they don't get that there can't be any special treatment (even if they understand it on a rational level, it may not be that way emotionally).

This is especially so with students in my department (ie these students are likely to take my classes, or be subject of discussions during department meetings etc).

I see mentoring more of a professional thing, though the mentoring can include non-subject-matter topics too, such as how to successfully network, navigate political and administrative hurdles, advice on interpersonal conduct. A friendship is personal.

Once a student graduates, it becomes a different context and I am, and have been, in contact with former graduates without feeling any compunction about it.

4

Yes, it's fine. It is also a great way to get references, since they are more familiar with you beyond your grades, they can give better recommendations.

As a grad student, I went drinking with many of my professors.

0

Good question, since there can be problems in a situation like yours, but this sounds OK to me.

I met one of my closest friends 40 years ago when I was in my 30's and he was a student of mine; we became friends right away. I was friends with with my undergraduate teacher and PhD thesis advisor, though that didn't happen until after I'd finished my degree.

I hope you're as lucky.

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