For students and professors: How to improve the office hours experience


On the first day of classes, professors invite their students to come to office hours with questions they may have during the semester. Despite the invitation, there’s a problem at Hopkins with getting students to actually attend office hours. The issue isn’t that students don’t need the help, and it isn’t that professors aren’t available. So since both parties are interested and willing, what exactly is the disconnect?

Office hours can be very intimidating to students. Professors at Hopkins are at the top of their fields. They’ve won awards, are doing cutting-edge research and sometimes have even written our textbooks. It’s not surprising, then, that students choose to not go to office hours unless they desperately need help. It’s hard to walk into a professor’s office with a question that, given the professor’s extensive knowledge, seems ridiculously elementary, which is why students may instead choose to talk to a TA or fellow student, leaving their professor as a last resort.

The issue cannot be blamed on either professors or students, but both parties can and should work harder to bridge the divide. Here are suggestions that could enhance the office hours experience.

For students:
Students should know that professors do want to see them at office hours. Even though office hours are mandatory for professors, this doesn’t mean they’re annoyed if students come by. Professors’ jobs are to help their students, and office hours are the best place to do this. Some professors are honest when they say that they are lonely in their offices and would love for someone to come by to talk.

Professors are, in general, very nice and willing to help students with whatever questions they might have, even if the question is not related to the class. If students are interested in talking to a professor about something other than course material, they shouldn’t be afraid or concerned they’re either taking away from other students’ time or the professor’s.
Students should feel free to use professors as resources for internships, career advice, networking, and general life plans. They’ll usually be more than willing to discuss jobs or research positions or connect you with their colleagues.

For professors:
It’s very hard for a student to walk into a professor’s office without a reason. Broaching a subject unrelated to class can be challenging when the student doesn’t know what to talk about, or the stature of the person seated before them leaves them stunned.

Professors should know that students might find them intimidating. One reason students might not show up is that they find their professor unapproachable because the professor always looks preoccupied with their computer or phone. Be mindful of the student coming to see you — they’re there for your help with a question they might think is stupid. Sometimes it takes a lot of guts to ask for help or face a professor with that much intelligence and talent.
Students might find it helpful if a professor provided topics that students could come to office hours to discuss – research, personal interests, or subjects that were brought up tangentially in class.

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