The Shy Undergraduates Guide to Office Hours

You see “Office Hours” listed on your professors’ syllabi but the thought of actually going into your professor’s office immediately causes anxiety. Maybe you’ve managed to squeak out a question or two in class which was hard enough. But meeting your professors during his or her office hours? Well that’s a new level of scary, especially if you’re on the shyer side.

You may think “Well, let me do well in this class so I don’t have to go to office hours.”  (Wrong!) 

If you’re a shy person then the thought of these types of meetings can be painful. However, here’s the deal: going to office hours is not optional it’s a command performance. You work hard as a college student so don’t cheat yourself out of opportunities simply because you’re shy. So exactly what kind of opportunities can you get out of going to office hours?

1) Strong letters of recommendation. Grades alone will not give you a strong letters of recommendation. Transcripts show the grades but if your professor knows you then they will be able to write you even better letters and office hours are a great way for them to get to know you.

2) Research opportunities. Do you know how many times engineering students tell me how in awe they are of their professors’ work? Wouldn’t you like to be a part of this work? Great then go to office hours. Ask them about research opportunities at your campus or others. Professors love talking about their research and you’ll immediately win them over. Important: read journal articles or learn about their research in advance.

3) Insight into your dream career. Maybe you haven’t declared your major yet or maybe your major hasn’t been quite what you thought it would be. For instance, maybe you’re a bioengineering major but you’re dream is to work on medical devices. Maybe you’re majoring in chemistry but you’re also really interested in business. Professors can offer insight that can help you navigate the bridge between your major and your future career.

4) Extra curricular opportunities (student clubs, competition teams, study abroad, student government, the list goes on). Many faculty members are also advisers to campus clubs. I knew of a student who got involved in a campus committee specifically because he went to office hours and his professor was looking for students. I also knew a student who got selected for a study abroad experience specifically because the professor wanted students from other majors to participate.

Professors love to meet students with majors that are less likely
to take their classes because it leads to richer in-class conversations.

So have I convinced you yet? Good. Now here’s how to maximize your visits.

Introduce yourself. Who are you? Where are you from? Be clear about why you’re taking this class and what you hope to get out of it intellectually. If it’s a major specific class then you probably think the reason why you’re taking it is obvious but don’t assume that your professor knows what your major is. If it’s a General Education Requirement class you chose that class for a specific reason. Maybe you’re taking a visual art class as a GE and you’re a Civil Engineering major. I’m sure your professor would love to know that you’re expanding your intellectual horizons by taking an art class.

Make sure you know who you’re talking to. Before your visit take time to visit your instructor’s web page and maybe do some research on who they are. I once knew a business professor who was also a boxing judge in China and was on a popular television quiz show. Professors have lives too and knowing about what they do outside of class will make these encounters even less scary. Do some research to find out who they are. Last but not least, remember they were once undergraduates students too. Finally, if you’re dream is to be a college professor let them know!

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