Imagine it’s syllabus week. Your professors are spending the first day of class going over the schedule for the semester (subject to change). They outline expectations for you. They tell you when the exams will be and talk about the importance of doing the readings and coming to lecture. They’ve also mentioned what times they have office hours, but you don’t really need to pay attention to that, do you?
I would like you to reconsider, to try to think of office hours as an opportunity that can be more beneficial than simply passing a class. While professors are mandated to have office hours, they are for you to utilize. Here are some ways to do so.
Visit When You’re Struggling with the Material
This is the first and foremost reason to go to office hours. None of us can immediately grasp every concept in every class right away. If you have tried and tried to wrap your head around something, but you still can’t understand it, then talking to your professor or TA during their office hours might help. They will be happy that you are coming to them rather than continuing not to grasp the formula, definition, application, etc. Professors appreciate seeing students put forth effort in their classes, and they are sure to remember you even if you are in one of the huge lecture classes. Make sure to talk to them early, though, as their lives can get very busy the closer to exam time you get.
Motivation to Do Better
Life goes on in college. Sometimes you get sick and can’t go to class. Sometimes there’s an emergency that prevents you from finishing your assignment. And sometimes, students just lack motivation to do what needs to be done. If you find yourself in that third category, try going to office hours for the classes you seem to be slacking off in. I have found that it tends to be more difficult to slack off in classes where I know the professor pretty well (such as those small English classes). If you’re in a large class, though, you may not feel as though the professor cares whether or not you are there. However, by talking with your professor, you give up your anonymity. You can use this as a way to motivate yourself because you would be disappointing someone you know has an interest in you if you slack off.
Some professors like giving participation grades, which frequently hurts students who are very shy or introverted. By talking to your professor outside of class, you might be able to come to an agreement of some kind where you don’t have to speak up in class as much, but you have to earn the grade through extra projects, going over materials during office hours, or something along those lines.
If you are someone struggling with mental illnesses or learning disabilities, I encourage you to talk to your professor about it if you think it necessary. They should be willing to work with you so that you can keep up (and excel) throughout the semester. This is also important if you have any panic response triggers. A small warning goes a long way in being mentally prepared for a lecture topic.
When you are on the path to what you want to do with your life, it’s often useful to get some perspective from someone in your field. While professors are in the academia subset of a field, many have probably spent significant amounts of time outside the university setting. This is a different role from what your academic advisor has: Your advisor is largely concerned with getting you through college successfully. Your professors can give you their input about the outside world. You can talk to them about different subsets of your field, how much school or experience they needed to get where they are now, or pretty much anything.
Establishing a Relationship
By going to office hours, you are getting to know your professor as they get to know you. If you work to maintain that relationship (I still chat with one of my freshman year English professors), you might find that they are able to suggest job openings (maybe) or alert you to some event within the field. In addition to this, by maintaining a relationship it will be much easier to ask for a letter of recommendation than if you haven’t had contact since your class. The more professors you create relationships with in this manner, the more ready you will be for the inevitable referral requests in your life.
Getting Research Opportunities
Depending on your field, you might want to have research experience. This is often true in the sciences. If you have met with a professor and you like their work/get along with them, you can ask about being a research assistant. Even if they are not looking for another assistant at the moment, they might be able to direct you to other faculty doing similar research. This can be a critical part of your undergraduate career if you hope to go on to graduate school, as many programs like you to have some hands on experience.
Going to office hours is one of the pieces of advice that is most often given, but rarely taken. There are a multitude of benefits to going in and seeing your professor, even if you aren’t struggling in their course. So take advantage of the time they give you and go see them!
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