The biggest misperception about faculty office hours is that you have to be struggling with the class to meet with your professor outside of class. This could not be further from the truth. You can take advantage of faculty office hours for all sorts of reasons. Here are some reasons faculty suggest:
Yes, sometimes as learners we struggle with a topic of the class and we need a little extra guidance on understanding the course content. As Legal Studies professor Rebecca Hamlin said, “Attending office hours are a low stakes opportunity to catch misunderstandings in the class to improve your overall grade.” Similarly, Political Science professor Jesse Rhoads said that, “Office hours are a chance for students to address any points of confusion about class material, answer any questions about process, and clarify expectations about assignments and projects. Also, Journalism Senior Lecturer Steve Fox stated, “It is an opportunity for faculty to learn about students’ goals for the class, as well as get a sense of how students think and write, which can lead to professors being better able to guide a student’s learning process.” Most importantly, if a student needs additional academic support, faculty are in a terrific position to guide you to other campus resources.
Build Relationships with Your Professor
College is an opportunity to build relationships not only with your peers, but also with your faculty members. Showing up at office hours is a great way to informally get to know professors. Believe it or not they want to get to know you, too. As Economics professor Val Voorheis affirmed, “Faculty appreciate the opportunity to get to know their students. Very few students take advantage of office hours, so one-on-ones with students allows faculty to explore students’ backgrounds — why they came to UMass — and their personal and academic interests.” As Political Science professor Ray La Raja asserted, “These personal connections can lead to great enjoyment of the class. Office hours are another way for students to take full advantage of the UMass education.”
Opportunity to Provide Feedback
Reciprocity is an important aspect to faculty office hours. Not only do your professors provide support and feedback to you regarding course content and assignments, but it is an open opportunity to provide your professors with feedback about the class. As Journalism professor Kelsey Whipple said, “Office hours provide students with the chance to let faculty know how things are going in the class. They can let us know what topics they want to spend more time covering.” Office hours are a safe space to engage in this kind of dialogue. Also, your professors aren’t always in the loop about things that are impacting students on campus. As Legal Studies professor Lauren McCarthy stated, “It is important for faculty to know about student life. What’s life like for students these days.” There may be some distance between now and the time your professors were students on a college campus. These types of connections really help a faculty member to understand the day and life of a student. As Journalism professor Kathy Forde reflected, “These conversations can help faculty better understand student perspectives in the classroom.”
Office hours are a terrific way to “humanize your professor,” as Professor Whipple said. Not only can you get academic support and guidance, but you can also build lifelong mentoring relationships. Don’t just try out office hours once, keep going back!! Building solid relationships takes time and you have a few years to practice developing your craft of getting to know people, personally and professionally. Initial visits can lead to research opportunities, and internship opportunities. The possibilities can be endless, but it’s up to you to start the process.