Jan. 26, 2021
There's a lot to do on a college campus, but one of the biggest missed opportunities is never utilizing a professor's office hours. There are several reasons why undergrads don't participate in office hours, but one of the most common explanations given is "I don't know what to say." If that sums up your experience thus far, check out these five topics to get the conversation rolling.
Office hours provide you with a great way to get a little more familiar with your professor and to get a chance to speak to him or her one-on-one as opposed to in front of an entire class. One way to do that is similar to how you'd strike up a conversation with any new acquaintance: introduce yourself by saying hello. There's no risk in doing so — your professor will be sitting there whether any students are there or not — which makes this a great way to practice your networking skills and demystify the whole office-hours experience. It'll also help you feel more comfortable returning on a later date to ask for that professor's help.
Lectures, especially large ones, can go by very quickly, with little time to break down complex topics or to ask follow-ups. Write down any burning questions that come up in class and bring them up to your professor during office hours. You can also review previously submitted homework or talk through expectations of an upcoming paper. Professors appreciate earnest students who are enthusiastic about learning, and they'll want to help you succeed. Just make sure you come prepared — don't expect a professor to just give you all the answers. They may ask you to work through some problems with them, or sum up your understanding of the concepts thus far, so that they know where to go from there. As long as you're actually attending class and making an effort, this is a great place to start.
If you're looking to gain hands-on experience in a potential career field through research or an internship, make a point of chatting with your professor during office hours. This is especially true if they're currently active in a specific area of research, as asking for more details about their current projects can help open the conversation. As experts in their fields, professors are also excellent resources for learning about research opportunities (departmental or otherwise), applicable internships, and related postgraduation careers. They can even connect you with alumni who are working in the field. Additionally, sharing your goals with your teacher helps them distinguish you from other students, putting you in an excellent position for requesting a recommendation letter in the future.
It can be difficult to relate what you are learning in your college courses to what's going on outside your college experience. As you continue to read and stay up to date with current events, keep an eye out for content or articles that are relevant to your studies. Finding op-eds or articles by people you've studied, keeping track of applicable industry awards, and seeing how your field is changing in real time is not only exciting and enriching, but can also provide you with a great chance to connect with your professor. Your instructor will be pleased to see you applying your knowledge outside of class and will likely meet you with an insightful conversation. They might even direct you to other interesting readings!
Unlike the other topics so far, this one shouldn't be for your first office visit. That said, if you think you might want a recommendation from a certain professor — or might like to find out if you would want one from them — be sure to stop by often enough so that this subject doesn't feel like it's coming out of the blue. If you feel awkward asking, you might not yet have a positive enough relationship with your professor — in which case, give yourself more opportunities to speak with them throughout the course. Don't force things, though; a teacher that you don't have a rapport with is a teacher who probably won't want to write you a letter. At any rate, once you bring up the letter of recommendation, be sure you come prepared with a lot of details about what it's for (graduate school, scholarship, internship, etc.) and even more gratitude.
Going to office hours can be intimidating, but just remember that your professors are there to support you, not judge you. They want to see you succeed, but until you walk through that door, they can't give you any additional help. Just know that whether you're bringing topics from this article or ones of your own, they will be appreciated and addressed. For more tips on how to make the most of your college career, head over to our YouTube channel.