Tag Archives | office hours

Image by WikimediaImages, pixabay.com

Image by WikimediaImages, pixabay.com

I’ve been there. I know that, despite spending weeks confined to the same lecture hall, actually striking up a conversation with your professor can seem daunting. It is often easier to “forget” about office hours, stay silent in class, and scurry out with making eye contact. But remember, your professors aren’t just lecturers, researchers and evaluators – they are people too. Admittedly extremely knowledgeable, articulate, and often charismatic people (who are leaders in their chosen field), but people all the same. So being the highly-motivated and intelligent student you are, have a little faith. You can handle it.

Better yet, you can ace it. Consider this your office hour cheat sheet.

1) Prepare. Make sure you have at least one intelligent question ready to kick off the conversation (but realistically having two or three is probably better). Also familiarize yourself with your professors’ research interests. Not only will this score you extra brownie points but it is virtually guaranteed to get them talking.

2) Timing is everything. Everyone is going to be vying for the lecturer’s attention right before midterms, exams and assignments are due. So try to make contact during the first few weeks of the semester (when stress levels for everyone on campus are usually lower) and see how it goes from there.

3) Bring back-up. Have a friend taking the same course? Perfect! Drag them along with you to office hours. At best, they can save you if the conversation starts to go south. At worst, after the fact, they can reassure you that everything did not go as badly as you think.

4) Start strong. Know how to properly address them. Generally, stick to “professor” unless you know they have a Ph.D., in which case “doctor” is also acceptable. Usually they will be upfront if they are more comfortable with you calling them something else.

5) Smile. You’ll be surprised how much this eases any underlying or overt tension in the room.

6) Be honest. Be upfront about the reason for your visit, but also be polite. You are not the first person and will not be the last to ask for a reference letter or an extension on your paper. That said, don’t be afraid to make purely social calls. Most professors like getting to know their students.

7) When in doubt. Send an email. If you are feeling nervous, this can be a good way to test the waters. Don’t be discouraged if you don’t receive an instantaneous reply, though, as some professors are notoriously hard to nail down in the digital world.

Image by uniinnsbruck, Flickr

Image by uniinnsbruck, Flickr

Getting to know your professor is a great way to distinguish yourself among the crowd and demonstrate that you are keen and interested in his or her class. While the prospect of introducing yourself to a professor might seem uncomfortable at first, the academic relationship you build with your instructor will help you to adjust to university and ultimately feel more comfortable throughout your degree.

Introduce yourself
An easy way to catch your professor alone is to show up during their office hours. This time is scheduled for the purpose of meeting with students – take the opportunity! If you are nervous, simply prepare some questions beforehand. Your professor will likely offer some valuable advice on how you can improve your work or research techniques.

Go to class
If you have introduced yourself to your professor in office hours, he or she will be able to recognize you, and it’s usually a good thing if your professor can put a face to the name of the student whose paper he or she is marking. Attending and participating in class demonstrates that you are invested in the course. It’s best to establish your reputation with a professor early on – sit near the front and be attentive, and in classes where participation is encouraged, try to contribute to the discussion at hand.

Don’t be afraid to ask for help
Approaching a professor for help is nothing to be ashamed of. They tend to enjoy discussing class material and will notice that you are making the effort to understand, even if you are convinced that your question is stupid or obvious. If you performed poorly on a test or assignment, taking the time to consult the person who grades your work shows initiative, and can help you to improve the next time. If you have fallen behind in class, need extra time for an assignment, missed out on lectures, or feel overwhelmed, it is always better to be honest and proactive about it. Set up an appointment with the professor to discuss your options, the earlier the better. When the alternative is to cross your fingers and sail into your final by the seat of your pants, you’ll find that asking for help is far more effective.

Don’t be afraid to ask for advice
If you are considering graduate school in the professor’s area of expertise, you may benefit from the advice of someone who works in the academic field. You might want to ask the professor for a letter of recommendation in the future – something that would undoubtedly be easier to obtain if you have already established a positive relationship with your professor.

Ultimately, getting to know your professors can help you to stay motivated in your work and dispel any fears about approaching them with a problem too late in the semester. Taking advantage of office hours allows you not only to discuss course matters but also to learn more about each other as individuals – the academic interests you might share, your future career plans – and give you valuable advice and support during your semester.