Opinion Column

Campus Life

Take advantage of your professors' office hours

By Raven Nyman

UBC campus. (GETTY IMAGES)

UBC campus. (GETTY IMAGES)

This week in Campus Life, we’ll be covering everything students need to know about office hours!

But, first of all, what are office hours, and why should you attend them? Office hours are times set aside by your professor when they will be on campus and available to meet with students regarding their needs. No, office hours don't come out of your professor’s free time. They are part of the job. That means, that realistically speaking, office hours are another learning tool that you, the student, pay for with your tuition. Yes, you really are paying for office hours. But the question is, have you ever actually attended them?

Who can they benefit?

Office hours can be a beneficial tool for any university student, so if you haven’t taken advantage of them yet, it’s time to learn more.

Why should you attend?

There are many reasons that you may need to attend office hours but, more often than not, students find themselves too shy or uncertain to approach their professors outside of class. If you are struggling with material, confused about a concept, or unsure of an assignment’s expectations, those are all good indications that it’s time for you to check out your instructor’s office hours.

Why shouldn’t you attend?

If you’re simply heading to office hours with the end goal of wooing your professor, it’s probably a good idea to turn around. Office hours are not an opportunity for you to present your professor with inappropriate personal confessions, and it’s certainly not a chance for you to schmooze your professor into giving you a higher grade.

What can you gain?

Attending office hours can help you to foster greater confidence in your self and in your academic abilities but it can also help you to gain respect from your professor. At the very least, you will have proven your commitment to the course. That alone could mean the difference between a passing and failing grade.

What can you lose?

By actually attending office hours, you can get rid of those silly assumptions you may have been carrying about your professors. The fear we initially feel about approaching them is actually quite ridiculous when we remember that professors are human too, and surprise: they want to help us.

Your professors can be one of your greatest resources in university — and they should be. Whether or not you take advantage of that resource is another question entirely. If you are shy or experience social anxiety, the thought of meeting one-on-one with an experienced intellectual can be quite scary. Heck, it’s intimidating even for the most confident of students.

Looking back, each visit to my professors' offices have been accompanied by exceptionally sweaty palms, frequent watch-checking and a whole lot of throat clearing. But once you get over the initial fear of meeting a professor one-on-one for the first time, it definitely becomes easier.

One thing that may surprise new university students about post-secondary is the variation in grading styles as well as written and constructive feedback. In high school, there’s a good chance that your teacher will, at the very least, take the time to explain what you did wrong on a test or assignment. In university, there are many times when grades are received without any feedback whatsoever. Many university students will go their entire degree without having pursued feedback for a less than perfect grade. Do you see the problem?

Without feedback, how can we improve? If we don’t even know what we’ve done wrong, how can we ever take our efforts to the next level? Unfortunately, a good percentage of university professors provide little-to-no written feedback on graded assignments, tests, and, yes, even essays. Keep in mind that high school teachers typically have between 20 and 30 students to grade in a class, while university professors may have hundreds of students to grade at a time.

Students who continue to seek out feedback from their professors will always succeed. I have taken multiple classes with a single professor and received the same grade with said professor, over and over again. Frustrating? Definitely. But was it my fault? Well, probably.

Why? I never asked for feedback! Instead, I tried to make sense of the single sentence attached to each letter grade, hoping desperately that a few words of instruction could somehow reveal the key to a perfect score. It doesn’t quite work that way. Unless you actually take the time to speak to your professor about your work, you won’t understand or appreciate the grade you’ve been given. These opportunities to challenge yourself won’t last forever, so make sure you take advantage of the support system that university provides you with. Professors are there to teach and challenge you, but they can only do their job successfully when you fully commit to your job as student.

A final tip: Be sure to check your professor’s office hours ahead of time before you decide to show up unannounced. There will always be those laid back professors who don’t mind this but there will also be plenty who do. Professors will always advise students of their office hours when a new term begins, and usually include these details on their website or syllabus. Most instructors actually prefer to have students schedule office hour sessions in advance, even though their hours may read, “9-11 a.m.”, but you should always email in advance if your professor has not clarified their preference in class.

Good luck, everyone!