A student listening to a prof during class
September 23, 2019
3 mins read

How to approach office hours

You’ve probably heard a million times now how important going to office hours is for university students. But do you really just pop into a professor’s office to chat?

Go to office hours—and your grades will improve.

Go to office hours—and your professor will remember you.

You’ve probably heard all of this before, but many students still tend to be confused about how to approach office hours—at least I was. It was something I planned to do in every class but I would often chicken out. Either I wasn’t struggling in the class, or I wasn’t sure if what I had to say was important enough for a prof.

Don’t wait for a question about the class

At first, I was scared to go to office hours. If I wasn’t really struggling with the material, what was I going to say? This was my hesitation until I had a great interaction with my Anthropology Professor, Wade Davis, in my first term at UBC.

He taught a huge 100-level lecture-style class with lots of content to absorb but I wasn’t really having any particular problem with the coursework. However, Professor Davis was also the author of one of our textbooks, so I decided to drop by during his office hours to get that and another book signed by him. It seemed less daunting when I had a reason to go!

The cultural anthropology class focused on Indigenous cultures of the world, so we learned to value each region’s local practices. I told Professor Davis that the material made my friends and I (all international students) feel welcomed at UBC. I was initially hesitant about sharing this kind of feedback about the class, but his welcoming reaction to my comment assured me that he was eager to hear from students. It broke the ice and I felt seen in a big classroom.

We often think office hours are only for sharing difficulties regarding the course material. But profs are also looking for your thoughts about their class. What worked, what didn’t work—they’re open to getting feedback!

Build a relationship early on

Now that I am in my 5th year, I realize how important a positive interaction with a professor early on has been for my university degree.

As an upper-year student, I find it integral for my development to discuss research and professional interests with professors whose career paths fascinate me. Because I made sure to develop this habit, I didn’t hesitate in emailing my Peace Studies prof for extra reading material and research opportunities.

I’ve chatted with my profs about my work on campus, other classes, and future goals as appropriate, and they’ve provided helpful advice in return. This is especially true for shaping my research interests as I hope to go to graduate school and become a professor in the future.

Because profs also teach hundreds of students each year, regularly interacting with them will increase your chances of getting a recommendation for grad school. After all, they can’t write one unless they know you!

Do your homework

If you are taught by a professor whose work outside the classroom interests you, take some time to look into it and carefully plan what you want to ask.

If you’re prepared ahead of time, you’re less likely to have an awkward encounter. It all adds up in leaving an impression on your prof!

Test the waters

During your degree, you will come across many kinds of professors. Some are open to conversation and some may be simply too busy. In either case, it’s best to respect their boundaries and gauge their expectations from the syllabus or in person. Some profs will be straightforward and specify how open they are to having a quick chat with you.

If office hours are still too intimidating for you, try catching your prof after class to ask them a question or two to wet your feet. This will give you an idea of how to prepare for office hours, and even provide follow-up material for a full conversation.

The key is to go into any conversation or meeting prepared so that you’re able to best utilize your time with your profs!