If you have ever looked at a college-level syllabus, you have likely noticed professors often list “office hours” for their students. Office hours are slots of times set aside by professors to help students with their work. They organize office hours so students can receive one-on-one help and have time to discuss challenges or questions not addressed during classes. Students also utilize office hours to discuss things such as missing work, absences, grades, and personal issues affecting their work. In short, office hours exist as a time to discuss anything that isn’t discussed in class.
Professors create office hours for a reason. They are busy people who fill numerous roles as teachers, researchers, and faculty members (amongst others). They create office hours in part so that they can devote the rest of their time to fulfilling their other obligations. Students, therefore, are generally expected to utilize professors’ office hours and to respectfully leave their teachers’ other hours untouched. That being said, most professors, however defensive they are of their precious time, are willing to make appointments outside of their office hours for students who are unable to attend regular office hours.
Top Five Ways to Utilize Your Professors Office Hours
Office hours are precious. Consider that at any given moment you are competing with hundreds of other students who are also vying for your professors’ limited time. Accordingly, it is important that you make the most of your professors’ office hours by using them primarily for the following reasons:
1. Use your professors’ office hours to clarify assignments.
Sometimes it is impossible to have all of your questions about classwork, homework, and larger projects answered in class. If you leave class feeling confused about your work, pay a visit to your professor during his or her office hours. Professors appreciate students taking the responsibility to fully understand their assignments
2. Use your professors’ office hours to discuss challenging subjects, topics, and materials.
Graduate courses are often full of challenging information, much of which is brand new to students. This means important theories, equations, and other pieces of information might be easily lost in translation. Use your professors during office hours to clarify information you find confusing
3. Use your professors’ office hours to ask questions that weren’t answered during class.
It is often impossible for professors to answer everyone’s questions during class. If your question was one that wasn’t answered, visit your professor during office hours
4. Use your professors’ office hours to obtain information pertinent to the professors’ classes or field(s) of expertise.
Let’s say you’re planning a trip to South Africa and your professor is an Africanist. Use his or her office hours to get advice about your upcoming adventure. Similarly, if you’re interested in deepening your knowledge about a particular subject, a subject area in your professor’s field of expertise, visit him or her during office hours. Many professors will be more than happy to share their knowledge. Keep in mind however, they might be less inclined to help if you show up asking for easily accessible information—if you want to utilize your professors’ office hours for this reason, take care to do your “homework” prior to your visit .
5. Use your professors’ office hours to inform your professors of personal challenges or circumstances affecting your work current or future work.
While professors aren’t a fan of excuses, they are interested in what’s happening in students’ lives that might negatively affect their work. If you’re facing challenging personal circumstances or having a hard time focusing on your work, talk to your professors and let them know what’s going on. They might have good advice, direct you to good resources, and give you some tips for succeeding in school
Rules for Respecting Professors’ Office Hours
Equally important are some general guidelines for respecting your professors’ office hours.
1. Recognize your professors have office hours for a reason.
Professors are generally busy people with obligations outside of teaching and meeting with students. They set office hours so they can manage their other obligations and still give students the attention and time they deserve. Accordingly, strive to visit your professors during their actual office hours. Your efforts will be appreciated.
2. Take the time to become familiar with your professors’ office hours.
They are typically listed on the class syllabus, on his or her department’s website, or on his or her office door. Try not to ask your professor to remind you of his or her office hours every time you feel like stopping by.
3. Don’t utilize your professors’ office hours to give them excuses about why you’re missing classes or not turning in work.
Instead, use those office hours to create a plan for catching up and improving your grade in class.
4. Prior to visiting your professors during office hours, try to answer your own questions.
Double and triple-read assignments, consult the class syllabus, and ask a classmate for guidance. Don’t show up in your professors’ offices asking questions with easily accessible answers.
5. Show up to office hours prepared.
Don’t waste ten minutes of your professors’ time digging around in your backpack, turning on your computer, or finishing up a text message. Also, if you’re using office hours to inquire about your grade, give your professors some advance notice—most professors will need some time to configure your latest grade
Annie Rose Stathes holds a B.A. in International Affairs and an M.A. in Political Science, both from the University of Colorado, Denver. She is currently an Instructor of Writing at Fort Lewis College in Durango Colorado