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Professors advise on how to succeed at office hours

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AUGUST 19, 2015

Coming to a large public university is nothing short of intimidating for the average freshman. When a lower-division class can contain hundreds of students, it is easy to fall under the radar behind a laptop in the back of a lecture hall.

As the semester starts rolling and the decision is between clocking in an extra hour of sleep or trekking to Evans Hall for office hours, many students will opt for the former option.

While it can be intimidating to approach your professor — after all, he or she is an expert in the field — a visit to office hours can prove to be beneficial for both parties and can improve your performance in the class and as a student overall.

Professors in a broad range of departments on campus offered tips on how to make the most of office hours, how to prepare and, most importantly, why you should always make the choice to attend and catch up on sleep later.

Your questions aren’t dumb.

In a large class, it can be guaranteed that someone else is just as confused about a topic as you are. According to Dan Garcia, a professor in the electrical engineering and computer sciences department, while it can be “terrifying” to ask a question in front of an entire hall of students, it’s “much easier in front of five others.”

Anthropology professor Charles Briggs agreed that any question is a valuable one during office hours, noting that “there is nothing more satisfying for a professor than to have a student show that he or she is interested in a topic discussed in class and wants to learn more.”

Get to know your classmates.

Garcia emphasized the importance of introducing yourself to others in office hours because it may be the only opportunity outside lecture to form study groups or bounce ideas off one another.

“You’re probably already a member of the elite 10 percent who are willing to put in that extra effort to learn the material,” he said. “See if you can use that opportunity to form a learning community.”

Come with an agenda.

While office hours are meant to be an open space for students to share their concerns about course material and build a personal relationship with their professors, English associate professor Kevis Goodman said a little preparation can go a long way.

“It is really best if students walk in with particular questions in mind,” she said. “The conversation can start there — with a purpose — and go elsewhere as other things arise.”

By making office hours a priority in your schedule, professor David Drubin in the molecular and cell biology department said, “it makes you a better student because it forces you to review things continuously throughout the semester rather than cramming it all in at once.”

Office hours are useful for professors.

According to Drubin, office hours are extremely useful to professors because they allow them to gain feedback on their course content and teaching style.

“Sometimes it’s hard to know what level to teach things at,” he said. “The more you know about something, the harder it can be to teach, because it’s easy to make assumptions about what people understand. After all, you’re living and breathing the topic every day.”

Briggs also described the numerous occasions on which he approached students who happened to be struggling in his class and suggested they attend office hours, only to be told they were afraid of wasting the professor’s time.

“Meeting with students during my office hours is not a favor or an act of kindness — it’s part of my job,” he said. “Professors are not monsters. There is no reason to be afraid of going to office hours.”

Going to office hours can help your future job prospects.

Professors can be a good source of information about graduate school and professional fields, and are often students’ first choice for providing letters of recommendation. At the same time, professors may not be able to provide much insight if your personal interactions have not extended much beyond lecture.

“If you have come in and talked about your interests and plans a few times before you ask for a letter of recommendation, you are more likely to get a ‘sure,’ ” said Briggs. “The letter is more likely to be substantive and enthusiastic.”

Contact Ariel Hayat at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @ArielHayat.

AUGUST 19, 2015

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