I know a number of college students who feel uneasy about going to office hours. I felt the same way. I wasn’t sure about how the process worked, didn’t know what to say once I got there, and wasn’t clear on why I should go in the first place. As an undergrad, I only went to office hours for two of my classes, but those two professors ended up having an immense influence on my studies and my life.
I’m certain I could have performed better academically and learned valuable life lessons had I gone to office hours for more of my classes.
Similar to your first-ever job interview, meetings like this are less intimidating when you have a good idea of what to expect, which is why I went behind the scenes with someone who hosts office hours; Professor David Gatchell at the McCormick School of Engineering at Northwestern University. Professor Gatchell offered his top recommendations for getting the most out of office hours while building strong professional relationships with professors.
Why go to office hours?
The primary reason to go to office hours, according to Professor Gatchell, is to establish a professional relationship with your professor that’s not solely based on academic help. Office hour meetings are a great opportunity to connect with your professor, explore your interests in the field, and uncover related campus and professional opportunities.
You’ll also make yourself known to the professor so that you’re able to follow up for a recommendation letter down the line. It’s much easier to ask a professor for a recommendation, and easier for them to write one for you, when you have a long, established working relationship. Professor Gatchell says, “you want your name to stand out and put a smile of recognition on your professor’s face when they think of you.” Building this kind of rapport with your professor brings them into your network, which also makes it easier for them to make a job connection for you.
Office hours are just one part of the overall class
“Know that office hours are one component of your overall experience in the class,” says Professor Gatchell. “You can prepare for office hours by making sure you’re on top of your classroom presence. Show your professionalism by arriving to class in a timely manner and show your commitment to doing well in the course by being prepared for class sessions.” Be an active participant in the class. Contribute to the learning environment. While you don’t have to raise your hand all the time, don’t escape it all together. Further, be willing to approach your professors before or after class with a question. While some of these may seem like small, insignificant interactions, doing them will make visiting office hours more approachable for you and your professor.
Office hours can be professional without being stuffy:
Keep in mind
If your professor doesn’t write back right away regarding an office hours appointment...
...it doesn’t mean they don’t care. “Professors have many responsibilities outside of your class, in addition to their home life,” says Professor Gatchell. If they don’t get back to you via email or can’t meet right away, many times they have a good reason. On the other hand, if you haven’t heard back in a few days, send a follow up email. Some professors get hundreds of emails each day, so you might have to email them two or three times. Regardless, it doesn’t mean they’re ignoring you, so don’t take it personally.
CEO, Propeller Collective
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