By CLAIRE FOX
For The News-Letter
Professors say that office hours are underused. Students, meanwhile, contend that it is uncomfortable to approach professors. Office hours are always posted on syllabi and professors regularly remind students to visit, yet many students opt out of these hours with professors unless they are required to attend.
Students and faculty attribute different causes to the lack of office hour attendance at Hopkins. Some students do not feel like they need office hours. Junior Andy Ingersoll admitted he does not frequent office hours because he has never felt a need to go.
“If I don’t understand the material or I feel like I need more teaching in the course then I would use them, but it’s much easier not to go to office hours,” he said. “It’s hard to go and talk to random grad students [as teaching assistants], or if you don’t have a specific question, and you just generally don’t understand, it’s hard to say, ‘Hi, I don’t understand this whole chapter. Teach it to me.’”
Another reason students might choose not to attend office hours, according to freshman Eva Izquierdo, is lack of effort.
“I think students don’t use office hours because of laziness,” she said. “It’s intimidating talking to someone one-on-one, and they might be embarrassed to ask for help.”
Assistant Professor of Italian Studies and Director of Undergraduate Studies, Italian, Eugenio Refini commented that he finds it difficult to get undergraduate students to visit. He agrees with Izquierdo that a one-on-one conversation with a professor can be more nerve wracking than talking in class.
“It’s a bit difficult to get undergrads to come to office hours, especially freshmen, because of course, they have to get into the rhythm of going to office hours,” Refini said.
Sophomore Sienna Schmid corroborates Refini’s thoughts on the shyness and inexperience when it comes to office hours of underclassmen, particularly freshman. She reflected on her freshman year and the difficulties she faced when going to professors and TAs for help.
“Last year I was intimidated to go as a freshman, because it was such a new thing,” Schmid said. “This year I’ve definitely gone a lot more, and I feel comfortable going to professors’ office hours because I feel like they know what they’re talking about.”
As freshman feel intimidated, some believe that Hopkins students are sometimes afraid of asking for help, so they avoid it. Associate Professor of Philosophy and Placement Coordinator Steven Gross urged students to know that, from a professor’s point of view, students asking questions is an inherently positive thing, and it shows that students want to engage with the material.
“All Hopkins students are very bright, so if a student has a question, it’s probably safe to assume another student has that question,” Gross said. “I think many students have a fear of thinking they’re looking stupid, and they have to grow out of that. You won’t learn unless you ask questions.”
He continued by adding that coming to talk to a professor during office hours does not have to be a major ordeal. Rather, at their core, office hours are there be used as a tool for clarification on class material.
“Some students might not know what office hours are really for and they feel like they have to have some point or idea that will win them the Nobel Prize or else they can’t come,” Gross said. “But really, one of the reasons [for office hours] is to say ‘I didn’t get this.’”
Both Refini and Gross articulated that students cannot be forced to attend office hours, but they should be proactive in taking advantage of their professors’ open hours on their own.
“It’s important for students to know that they’re adults,” Gross said. “Every student knows every professor’s office hours — it’s on the syllabus — and it’s up to them to use them.”
Those who actively visit office hours find that having conversations with professors or teaching assistants is advantageous, both in the short term and the long run.
Refini noted the lack of usage of office hours by students, and he emphasized that they should definitely be used more habitually.
“I think would be extremely useful if they were used a bit more,” Refini said. “They are useful because they let you get in touch with faculty and get to know the system, as well as get help with assignments or readings. We are here to help.”
Sophomore Sharmila Tamby makes use of office hours for her computer science classes, where the TAs will go through students’ codes to help them figure out problems. From her experience, she thinks that many students simply do not realize the importance of office hours.
“I think people don’t know how helpful office hours will really be, so they just don’t get the point of them,” Tamby said.
Gross has found that those who do utilize office hours find them both informative and gratifying.
“In some of my upper level courses, it’s a requirement for the class that students come to office hours for their papers, and those students usually tell me that sitting around and chatting with their professor about their paper is actually one of the most enjoyable, intellectual parts of the class,” he said.
Additionally office hours allow students to get to know professors on a more personal level, which can help students when it comes to aspects aside from learning, namely letters of recommendation, according to Gross.
“No matter what you do — whether it’s applying to medical school or a job — you’re going to need letters of recommendation,” he said. “You could be one of the 90 percent of students whose letters are something with content like, ‘This person was apparently in my class according to my records and apparently did very well.’ Or, you could have a letter that is much more personalized. Which one do you think would serve you better?”
Gross added a final piece of advice for students.
“I’ve told students not to make the mistake I made in college, which was only using office hours in my senior year when a professor required us to go, only to realize that they were actually quite useful,” he said. “You’re paying all this money to go to here, and you should get the most out of it, and you won’t get the most out of it unless you go to office hours.”