Most professors will advise students to shadow professionals in their chosen field. My undergraduate professors advised me and my classmates to do just that. However, there was a catch. I had a professor who only advised that I shadow professionals (Speech-language Pathologists in my case) that lived in my home town/area. The reason given was that SLPs in the area would get flooded with volunteers, thereby getting annoyed and making it difficult for the university to match graduate students with practicums. I bought in to this reasoning at first, but soon after learned that the advice was bogus.
Truth About Shadowing
The hypocrisy of the advice I was given was that, if the rationale were true, then I would be doing the same damage to the university in my home area that I would be doing to the university I was attending, had I ignored the advise. The truth is many professionals welcome students who want to volunteer. The SLPs I shadowed never had students ask them to shadow or volunteer. They were happy to have me and expressed the desire to have other students come shadow them.
The trick is to not overstay your welcome. Some students want to shadow a professional for weeks or an entire semester. That is way too long. You begin to become a burden and annoyance to professionals. You will most likely loose endorsements from these professionals as well. However, if you keep your shadowing experience between one and five days, then you will make the connections you need to be successful.
The other pitfall to avoid in shadowing is giving suggestions. No professional wants to here a student’s–even a graduate student–suggestions on how to do their job. While you may have educational and research knowledge, the professional you are shadowing also has that knowledge combined with field experience (which you do not have). Instead of offering suggestions, ask questions. Don’t say “I read this in a journal/on a Web page, you should try it.” Do ask, “I read this in a journal/on a Web page, what are your thoughts on the subject?”
Shadowing provides valuable insight into the industry you are looking to enter. You build connections that will help you with jobs in the future. If you receive advice I did, do not buy into it. Universities are not out to do you any favors. They take your money to give you a degree, and then immediately start calling you asking to donate money as an alum. Your professors may give you fancy reasons of why you should do this or not do that, but the real underlying reason will always be that they don’t want their job to get harder.