Everybody will tell you to go to office hours; it’s one of the golden rules of getting the most out of your education. But it can be a tough adjustment for timid students. I consider myself one of the more participative students in class – I talk frequently in discussions, answer the professor’s questions, and I love talking to them after class to follow up on a point or receive clarification. But I still get terrified of going to office hours. It might be because there’s something incredibly intimidating about their nice offices with books lining their walls and desks (they’ve probably written some of the titles themselves) or simply the fact that they’re brilliant. As a freshman last year, I definitely didn’t take advantage of all my opportunities. With practice it became easier towards the end of the year and a lot of little details helped ease the trepidation.
Some professors require prior appointments
Make sure you know if your professor requires you to sign up for office hours online or during class. This might happen for larger classes or during midterms and finals review week. Don’t show up to a professor’s office when they’re already fully booked.
Prepare a list of questions to ask to help you remember
If there’s something during lecture you didn’t understand or have a question on an assignment, make sure you know exactly what you’re going to ask before going to office hours blindly. Don’t fumble around, but be clear and precise in what you don’t understand. It will be easier to get better answers and more efficient use of the time. Some questions might arise naturally, but you should have a starting question to get the conversation rolling.
Jot down some notes
Professors are literally a fountain of knowledge and the flow of information will be steady and plentiful. Don’t be afraid to bring in a notebook, an outline, or your paper to jot down points that they make or advice that they give. Especially if you’re preparing for an essay or paper, it helps to write down suggestions or recommendations so you can put them to use later on. Obviously, don’t be stuck staring only at your paper that you don’t make eye contact and engage with them!
Attend office hours even if you don’t have questions (get to know them better!)
How do you get to know your professor if you don’t have any questions or difficulties in the class? Well, office hours aren’t always about asking questions and getting them answered. For those who find course material manageable or questions answerable by TAs, it’s still important to make connections with a professor. Visit their office hours and poke their brain about related subjects or what they like to do outside of academia (just don’t get too snoopy or inappropriate). I once brought up a news article I found that was related to a point of discussion in the last class and my professor talked in length about it. It was super fascinating and a nice conversation that diverted from the class syllabus. You can even ask them about any reading recommendations they might have if you’re really enjoying the class and would like to learn more.
It’s important to remember that professors are huge nerds just like us. Professors are paid to study what they love and then teach it. They wouldn’t be doing this job unless they were incredibly passionate about their area of expertise. If you have an earnest curiousity in learning more, they will usually welcome this and appreciate your questions and interest. Imagine talking about your absolute favorite subject in the world to someone and how pleasant that is. That’s probably how they feel. So don’t be intimidated or nervous to take advantage of the wealth of knowledge professors have to offer outside of the classroom!