You know how people always tell you that first impressions are so important? That when you meet someone for the first time, it usually takes them about 10 seconds to create in their mind, an impression of you? I totally agree that making a positive first impression is very important when meeting new people, especially for interviews (jobs, professional school etc.), which brings me to my story of how, in my opinion, my "bad" first impression worked to my advantage.
It was the summer of my second year of undergrad and I had made a goal that I was going to become a volunteer in a research lab. The reason being, I had never set foot in a research lab prior to second year and I never experienced what it was like to do "research". As a student on OSAP, I qualified for the Work Study program whereby I could apply for research/lab assistant positions posted by various professors that were uploaded to a centralized website. To boot, I would get paid for this work. One of these professors had a posting that piqued my interest and I decided to submit my application to him. The requirement was that I had to hand in my application in person. Now, looking back, I realized I probably should've emailed the professor to arrange a time where I could drop off my application but I didn't, so for an entire week, I went to this professor's office to see if he was in but he was not. Fast forward about a week later when I had the chance to meet with the professor, I told him that I was there to hand in my work study applications - mind you, this was before the deadline.
This was how the conversation went down:
Me: Hello Professor X. I'm here to drop off my work study application that you posted on the Careers website.
Prof: *intimidating look x100* Well, you're kind of late. I already hired someone.
Me: Oh...well do you think I can still hand in my application? I'm willing to be a volunteer if your graduate students need any assistance.
Prof: Well, I guess you can give me your application and I'll put in the pile with the rest of the volunteer applications.
Me: Ok, great! *looks through my folder only to realize that what I thought was a cover letter and resume turned out to be a rough draft of a cover letter and resume with scribbles over it.* Umm..well it appears that I don't have my cover letter and resume with me today.
Prof: *looks up at me with the most intimidating blue eyes I've ever seen* So, what are you saying? You're not prepared?
By now, I could've sworn all the colour from my face disappeared. I was thinking "Crap! There's no way I'd ever have a chance to do research with this prof. He probably thinks I'm a complete idiot and disorganized person!"
Me: *trying to redeem myself* Well, I thought I had it and truth be told, I came to your office every day last week to try to hand it to you in person but you weren't there. I wasn't sure if it was ok for me to just slip my application under your door.
Prof: Well, just bring it tomorrow and if I'm not here, just slip it under my door.
As I exited his office, I was mentally kicking myself for being so disorganized. I was so sure that this first impression would work against me.
But of course, as you might've guessed from the title of this blog post, it didn't. In fact, the next day after I had slipped my application under his door, I received an email from this very professor who wanted me to come into his lab so he could train me to be a volunteer. Was I surprised? Most definitely. You might be asking me why I'm bothering with a story that happened 2 years ago. Well, I'm currently doing my honours thesis project with this same professor and I've come to realize that he really isn't THAT intimidating after all. I asked him why he decided to hire me as a volunteer that day and he told me that since he had a bit of spare time that day, he read over my cover letter and was impressed by my writing and resume. I guess the lesson learned from this is that first impressions don't always give the most ACCURATE representation of an individual as we all know. It's funny how things worked out in the end. This professor has become a mentor of mine and it was through this initial volunteering position that he was able to teach me many molecular techniques and know me as an individual. In fact, he's one of my referees for my medical school applications this year. Just goes to show that even if you think you made a bad first impression, it won't necessarily work against you. And if there's one thing I learned from this experience, it's to be proactive in searching for research opportunities whether it be an actual paid position or a volunteer one. Most importantly, don't be afraid to approach professors and if you make the same embarassing mistake I did, don't give up but rather follow up later on!
Until next time,
LL (aka Cass)