Why does every professor note “office hours” on the course syllabus? Am I the only one who has no clue what they are? Is this when the professor is working and if so what does she do with all of that other “free time”?
These great questions are posed by many first year and even upper year students who aren’t familiar with the office hours concept. I’m going to use this post to reveal the mystery behind office hours so that students understand what they are and how they can benefit.
Office hours are designated times professors deliberately schedule in order to meet with students. Whoa. Hold up. Why would my professor want to meet with me?
I’m going to be honest here. Some professors could care less about meeting with you while others are quite open to the idea. Most post-secondary institutions require professors to hold office hours at a rate of one hour per class instructed, or something along those lines, so it’s not necessarily coming out of the goodness of anyone’s heart.
On the other hand, many professors value the opportunity to get to know their students personally and to help their students in a number of ways.
Here are the four most common ways students utilize my office hours:
- Clarify course content by asking specific questions. I love it when a student prepares a list of questions in advance of a visit. These students are able to stay focused and make the most of the time. I appreciate it when students don’t waste my time by spending the majority of the meeting rifling through their paperwork.
- Discover opportunities to learn more about future courses, program options, volunteering opportunities and work experiences. Professors can be an amazing resource for all types of information. If you have legitimate questions about program pathways or ways to gain experience, your professor just might have some answers.
- Ask questions about papers, tests or assignments. Sometimes you just don’t know what the professor meant by writing “awk” in the margin of your paper. If you take the time to clarify feedback, chances are you will perform better on the next paper or test if you can apply those lessons learned.
- Express concern over course performance or progress. If things are not going well and you’re not sure what you can do, your professor might be able to provide some guidance that could help you get back on track. You might even learn that this course/program is not for you and make some changes (caution: always seek a second opinion!).
Some of the benefits of visiting your professor during office hours are obvious from the above list. Another obvious benefit is that the professor gets to know you. This is a tremendous help if you ever ask that professor for a reference. See the Will You Be My Reference? post for more tips on what it takes to receive a qualified reference from a professor.
Another benefit is that you get to know your professor too. There might be some interesting clues in your professor’s office that reveal useful information. During one office hour visit a student realized I was a past Chapter Board Chair of Kids Help Phone from the recognition plaque on my shelf. It turned out that she was interested in getting involved with the organization as a volunteer and we were able to have a meaningful talk.
Most professors have specific guidance around preferred systems for managing office hours so pay attention the information she shares. In my previous role, I managed my office hours using an advanced booking system because there were just so many students to accommodate. In my current role I operate on a drop-in basis because it better suits my style and the students I work with. Some professors operate on an open door, drop-in basis while others would give you the nastiest stink eye ever for not respecting their time.
While we’re on that note, let me remind you to please respect your professor’s office hours because they actually have a lot more work to do outside of preparing for class, teaching and meeting with students. See the What Do Professors Do Anyway? post for more on that topic.
I hope you’re better equipped to understand when and why you might visit your professor. If you have any questions around office hour etiquette or purpose, please post below.
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