What are office hours?
Office hours are special times that professors or teaching assistants (TAs) set aside just for helping students or talking about things related to a class. These are usually among the first things highlighted as the professor goes over the syllabus on the first day. Basically, what tends to happen during office hours is that a few students gather in a predesignated area and go around asking the professor or TA any questions they have about the course. The professor will elaborate on topics covered in lecture, go over homework questions (or random, hypothetical ones), and share any tips they have about understanding the material.
They may also share stories, life advice, suggestions for college, and tips for how to do well on quizzes, tests, and exams. This last part is especially worthwhile. It’s also worth noting that office hours are like an open house—you don’t have to show up at the start or stay for the whole time. Even if you can only hop in for 15 minutes and get your question answered, it’s worth it.
What should I ask?
You can ask about anything relevant to the course material that will help you get a deeper understanding. For TAs, you can also ask the same things you would to a professor; they can certainly be less intimidating and may give you a different perspective. Here are some examples of what you can ask:
- Re-explain a part of lecture
- Rework a homework problem
- Where to learn more about the topic – even how to get into research with it
- What to focus on for midterms/finals
- Ways to get extra practice
- Things to memorize
- How to format projects or what to include
What if I don’t know what I don’t know?
Will it be awkward with other people there?
“Come to office hours, I’m just sitting there alone at my desk waiting for students to come in”
You’ve heard this before, I have no doubt. And I’m sure that whoever said it was telling the truth, but I personally have no idea when the stars would align for this to happen. Ohio State is a big school, so even for small classes, a solid number of people will show up to office hours. The other people in office hours may seem intimidating at first, but you’ll quickly realize that you’re among allies in your confusion–you’re all faking it ’till you make it, but office hours pull the mask away a bit. Plus, if you do show up with no idea what you don’t know, you can rely on them to ask the questions for you.
On the flip side, if you’d prefer to meet with your prof or TA one-on-one, many of them have office hours “by appointment”. These tend to be underutilized, so they’re great for focused help and getting to know the professor better. You can also just send them an email saying that you’d like to meet, the vast majority would be happy to schedule at time with you.
How do I get the most out of office hours?
- Don’t be hesitant or embarrassed to ask questions, remember that other people will be wondering the same thing.
- Come prepared with specific homework questions that confused you.
- Have an idea of specific topics that you’re confused about. It helps to mark these points in your actual lecture notes so you know where the confusion began.
- Ask any questions that come to your mind during office hours.
- Try and stand out to your professor as someone who works hard to understand the material, even if it doesn’t come to them immediately. Your professors are valuable connections and possible rec letter writers.
- Make note of what your professor emphasized, this is likely to reappear on a test.
- Take notes. Treat it like a mini lecture but with more participation.
Remember that you get out of a class what you put into it. Making the extra effort to attend office hours pays off 🙂