Green Decorative Wheat

Line Between Private & Professional Life

When I first became a professor, I transformed overnight from a quiet, nerdy student to one of the "cool kids on campus." Soon, no matter where I went during my workday, there would be a student or two calling out to me. And after I'd taught several classes, something startling began to happen: I would run into students off campus as well. Suddenly, students were everywhere, at the store, at the mall, at bars...

This phenomenon raises a question: at what point does your job end and your private life begin? And in some ways, for professors, the reality is if you are out in public, you are on stage. Even if you are not on campus.

Even if you limit your relationships with students to the purely professional and never go off campus to get lunch or have other social contact, the fact remains that even your private behavior, when done in public, can have real consequences to your students' experience in college and to your career. Here are a few things to keep in mind as you navigate this difficult aspect of the higher ed world:

  • Know your university's policies about social relationships with students and follow them.
  • Remember that you represent your university when you are in public, always, and especially if you are in university gear. Everyone has rough days at work, and we all blow off steam. But think about what you are saying and how you are behaving in public, and remember that students may see you even if you don't see them. If you are in university gear, then you are representing the university as a whole, and not just yourself. Represent it well.
  • Lock down your social media. It's important to have a personal life and to be able to feel relaxed and comfortable in it. But the public nature of your job means that you need to be all the more vigilant about keeping your personal life private. If you would like to add students to your friend networks, consider creating special accounts that represent your professional self on Facebook, Twitter, and any other outlets. Lock down any personal accounts so no one who isn't a friend can see what you post.

As you continue in a career in higher education, these issues will become increasingly important. Start off on the right foot by paying close attention to policies and the larger responsibilities that underpin them. Once you step in to your first college classroom as the professor, part of you will remain a professor everywhere you go. That is a great honor and a great responsibility.