Thursday, April 17, 2014
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SHEA: On my knees

Supplication is an awkward thing. As looming deadlines keep me up all night and abruptly wake me up in the morning with panicked dreams, I’m painfully aware that in the next two weeks, I need to finalize the application to graduate school that will determine the next seven years of my life.

Along with applications come letters of recommendation – three or more. I really don’t like asking professors for these because they are way too busy to write really nice things about me, but it’s a necessary part of the process. But it leaves me feeling guilty that someone is spending his or her few precious free hours coming up with a glowing encomium of Sydney Laura Shea.

When asking for a recommendation, I’ve found that I need to be humble and confident at the same time. It’s much more considerate to ask someone in person than via email, which is completely impersonal and careless.

I’m more neurotic than most people, though, so I’m sure my nerves about asking are a little strange when compared with the rest of the population.

My morning begins with butterflies in my stomach about asking said professor. There is no debate about whether it will be a make-up/hair-straightener day or not. I need to look as decent as possible to go through with this.

I then go to said professor’s office after checking my lip gloss several times to make sure that it’s perfect. This probably does not make any difference whatsoever, but these kinds of things happen when you’re raised as a cheerleader/ballerina/Barbie doll.

As I walk to his door, my heart begins pounding and I’m probably sweating through my sweater. The clam level of my palms is like, 100 percent. Internal panic ensues. Knock, knock. Knock.

“Oh my god. Is he here? I should go. He probably hates my guts. I should leave, seriously – ”

And mid-internal dialogue, professor opens door.

Depending on how well I know the professor, which is usually based purely on how many classes I’ve taken with him, the conversation goes something like this:

“Oh, um, hi Professor _____________! Yes I’m okay, thanks. Uh there’s something I was wondering if you could talk about but if you have no time I totally understand like I’m not even sure if these are your office hours I’m so sorry like I bet you’re completely busy – ”

Professor: “Yeah, that’s fine. Come in.”

I can feel the vomit making its way up my esophagus. I really should have had a drink before this. I’m cracking my knuckles. Stop cracking your knuckles, Sydney, it’s unladylike. Jesus.

“So basically I’m applying to grad school and need a few letters of recommendation. I know it’s a lot to ask at this time of year, but I feel like you are a good person to ask because you’ve had me in class and I like what you do a lot (incoherent mumbling …).”

“Certainly, it would be my pleasure.”

The look of surprise on my face must be a little confusing to the other person. He probably thinks that I just smoked a lot of crack at this point.

“Oh. Okay. Wow, like, thank you so much.”

Why did you just say “like” in front of your professor? He probably thinks you are a dumb Valley girl and will now change his mind.

“Sure, yes it’s nice to have you in my class. How is everything else going?”

And then we continue with normal conversation as I silently calm my insides.

While this scenario might make me seem like a psychopath, I learned something last week that would make me disagree.

One of my friends from The Daily Free Press (that is the newspaper you’re reading right now … you’ve probably already turned to the sports section on page 8) hosted a guest speaker from a popular news radio station. She spoke about interviewing younger writers and interns, and mentioned that nervousness is actually not a negative trait for these kinds of things – it’s actually endearing. While asking for recommendations is not an interview, it’s still a similar situation in that I’m asking an authority figure who is much better than me all around to do something really nice and really tedious.

My advice, then, would be to let the nervousness work in your favor by appearing extra prepared when asking for a recommendation. Obviously you’re not literally begging for something on your knees, but it’s not bad if they’re shaking a little bit.

Sydney L. Shea is a senior in the College of Arts and Sciences Ancient Greek and Latin. She can be reached at


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