I met with a new advisee today; we had a good meeting. S/he's in a good position to take some good courses and do well, sounds interested in the courses s/he's taking now, and seems well on the way to getting a good education.
At the end of our meeting, though, something about the smile, the thanks for my help, and the changed body position made me think that s/he'd been really nervous about seeing me, and that got me thinking back.
S/he'd sent a sort of awkward email this morning asking for help, and I'd offered a meeting time, which s/he'd quickly accepted. And so when I came back after class to my office hours with a student already in tow, s/he'd been sitting on a hallway chair nearby. But I hadn't recognized him/her as my advisee. Then someone else came quickly in to talk about an essay, and I still hadn't made the connection between the student seemingly studiously reading on the hallway chair and the earlier email. It was only after that student had left and I'd turned my attention elsewhere that s/he came to the door, sort of shyly, and introduced him/herself.
We had a good session, and I think s/he'll be back less nervously next time. I hope so.
It's hard to think of myself as intimidating. I'm not physically intimidating, at least not when I look in the mirror. I'm not 6'8" or anything. I'm not drop dead gorgeous; "plain" would be a complement. And I don't think of myself as intellectually or academically intimidating, either. It sort of doesn't occur to me that I'm intimidating (though every so often a student will say that s/he was intimidated by me when s/he was a first year student).
But I remember how intimidated I was by every professor and TA I had in college. Other than my initial advising meetings in orientation and when I declared my major, I went to one office hour before my senior year, I think. I can remember going and asking the question I asked; that's how significant it was for me for my first several years of college.
I can imagine meeting with my new advisee over the next several years, seeing growing confidence and a sense of real achievement, and I'm looking forward to it.
In a way, being able to help my him/her is the high point of an otherwise overwhelming, frustrating, and irritating week.