Okay, I have a confession to make: I am intimidated by professors. Promise me you didn’t laugh. There are many professors whom I enjoy discussing course material with — okay, more realistically, there’s one or two whom I particularly enjoy discussing my work with during office hours and in lectures. However, I still find myself a little bit intimidated by them whenever I send an email asking to discuss an assignment or a passion project of the same subject — or whenever I approach them after a lecture. I struggled more with this in my first year, but after some contemplation and genuine passion for a course — so much so that it would eat me alive if I didn’t talk about it — I decided, “Why not go outside of my comfort zone and go to office hours?” 

Now, I am a frequent office hour “attender,” and I find office hours to be particularly rewarding and informative. I often walk out of office hours super excited, and whatever we discuss is often the center of my conversations with friends that day — ranting about my 30-line (and sometimes 52-line) poem with a new perspective due to a professor's guidance. (Sorry, besties, for my impassioned tangents every single time. Every. Single. Time.)

After these conversations, my friends expressed wanting to go to office hours with whatever professor they wanted to talk to but didn’t know what they could talk about or how even to ask to meet for office hours. So, here is my “Office Hours 101.”

What are office hours? 

Don’t worry if you genuinely don’t know what office hours are; I’m going to walk you through it. Basically, office hours are when you go to a professor's office during the allocated time and talk to them about assignments and course material you have questions about or work either of you have done outside of the classroom that may be related to the topic at hand.

How can I find out when a professor’s office hours are?

You can usually find out what time(s) and day(s) your professors’ office hours are on the syllabus or somewhere on Canvas. If the syllabus lists the wrong office hours, the professor will bring it up in class. You can also email them and ask if everything else fails! Some professors prefer that you email them beforehand, letting them know you are coming to office hours; other professors don’t and will instead state their preference in the syllabus or class.

What if I can’t go during their regular office hours?

This is a great question! If you can’t go to your professor’s office hours because they happen at the same time as one of your other classes or because of work or other commitments, then you can email them and ask if they’d be willing to meet with you on an alternative day during an alternative time. 

You can also approach them after a lecture and bring this problem up to them in person, but I understand the intimidation of approaching professors, and oftentimes, it feels more comfortable to email first. They will most likely be enthusiastic about your interest and impressed that you are advocating for your success in their course!

It might also feel daunting to send that email asking to see them in their office, but it's important to remind yourself that you will most likely feel fulfilled after going to talk to your professor, and you’ll most likely have fun connecting with them also! Not to mention you will probably clear up some confusion you have about certain topics. 

You can also be like me and schedule when your emails will be sent and then do something to take your mind off of the nervousness until you get a reply. You can also type a draft of your email and get someone else to approve and send it so you don’t feel as nervous.

What can I talk about? What if I’m having trouble putting into words what I want to talk about?

This question has many answers depending on your personal ideas and actually makes me pose more questions than answers. 

What do you want to talk about with your professor? Was there something that they said during a lecture that particularly interested you enough to consider going to office hours just to talk about it? Is there an assignment or part of the course material you need clarification on? 

If you answered yes to any of these questions, then you’ve figured out the topic you could discuss with your professor during office hours! These questions can also guide you if you’re having trouble putting into words the topic you want to talk about. You can even write out your thoughts beforehand. For example, I have a notebook I write everything in, and I often write my thoughts down in that notebook just so I can talk about them during office hours. 

It’s also important to note that if you’re having trouble articulating the questions and the topics you have in mind, that’s another great reason in itself to go to office hours. Professors are super understanding and patient and understand your confusion. So don’t worry! They’ll help you figure it out!

Some professors even state that you don’t need to go see them during office hours for only course material-related questions. For example, I went to one of my professors’ office hours to talk about whether a tree itches in relation to a poem I wrote — where we drew trees and unpacked the image of a tree — then, during another office hours session, I brought a poem I wrote over winter break and he really helped me unpack it. This is to say that sometimes professors really are interested in what you are working on outside of class, just as much as the questions you have about course material.

Are you sure I’m not being annoying? 

You’re definitely not being annoying unless you’re being blatantly disrespectful. It's probably your nerves convincing you that you’re being annoying! Your professors want you to go to office hours; once you go and have these discussions with them you will begin to realize that they are just as passionate about helping you and just as passionate about having conversations about course material as you might be. 

Professors also want you to succeed in their course, so don’t be afraid to ask them questions about assignments and material that you think might be “stupid.” These office hour conversations make me realize that I want to be a professor just so I can discuss these topics in depth in this way.

Noah! I took your advice, and now I’m on my way to my professor's office! But I’m super nervous!

In the words of my former editor regarding figuring out my first article title, “Woah, slow down there, buddy. It's going to be okay!” Office hours can be scary for some people, especially if it's their first time going. The first few office hours I went to made me super nervous, but I took a deep breath and reminded myself that it’s just office hours. Or, as the youth say, “It’s so unserious.”

I know a lot of people who went into office hours and had embarrassing moments, but we don’t have to. If your shirt is fastened tight and not prone to riding up or unbuttoning accidentally, and the cap on your coffee is on tight, and you’ve got a hold on it — both stories for another time — then you will be perfectly fine.

Now go out there and connect with your professors or one professor you really admire! You got this!