Though in a school as large as UC Berkeley, office hours are often presented as an invaluable student resource, it took me awhile to actually follow through on the promises I made myself to actually take advantage of them.
This is BERKELEY, I thought to myself as a freshman. These professors are brilliant. Why would they want to talk to me, a measly undergraduate? And besides, Berkeley students are supposed to be some of the best and the brightest in the nation. I should be able to do my work without help.
I was wrong about a lot of things as a freshman. That was one of them.
Taking classes at a level much higher than anything I had even come close to experiencing in high school, I soon realized that there was no shame whatsoever in asking for help. In fact, it was encouraged.
The general understanding in most of my classes seemed to be that professors’ office hours existed to further address concepts discussed in lecture, while for specific questions about papers and assignments, graduate student instructor office hours were the way to go.
I set about becoming queen of GSI office hours.
The truth was that the idea of any sort of one on one dialogue with a professor made me disproportionately nervous, but the majority of my questions really did have to do with the mechanics of the papers I was writing. So I went about my business, giving little thought to the fact that I was not utilizing professorial office hours at all.
But everything changed this semester, when I took a class called English 45C and absolutely fell in love. English 45C is a survey course of realism, modernism, and postmodernism. It’s one of the prerequisites for the English major. But for me, it was so much more than that: I devoured the readings and looked forward to lectures days in advance. Almost every time I walked out of class, I did so feeling amazed and enlightened by both literature and scholarly analysis. With the help of my graduate student instructor, I received a hard-fought A- on a my first paper. This, I realized, was my favorite class ever. I was doing well in it. I had further questions. If I was ever going to get over myself and utilize professors’ office hours, this was the time.
So one morning I arrived at Wheeler Hall with my heart hammering so loudly I worried everyone could hear it. What if I sounded stupid?
I’m not proud of this, but after climbing four flights of stairs up to Professor Lee’s office, I lost my nerve and walked all the way back down to the lobby of the building to catch my breath. After about five minutes, I walked back up and, bracing myself, walked through the office door.
“Hi!” Professor Lee welcomed me warmly. “You’re in my 45C class, aren’t you?”
The conversation that followed was easygoing and interesting. It covered everything from the books and concepts we’d gone over in lecture, to the line between creativity and appropriation in regards to a novel I had read in another one of my classes, to my plans to study abroad in Chile next spring, and even the recommendation of a Chilean author he suggested I read before I left.
“It was nice meeting you,” Professor Lee said to me said to me as I exited his office en route to the bookstore to purchase his recommendation. “I’ll see you in lecture.”
Smiling, as I returned his sentiments, I rolled my eyes at myself, wondering what I had ever been so scared of.