As the end of my third year of college comes rushing towards me, I have given some reflection on my time at Cal. The memories I’ve made with my friends, random adventures I’ve been on, and the brilliant people I’ve met along the way. One of my favorite things about university that isn’t talked about enough might surprise you: office hours.
If you don’t already know, office hours are a time for you to meet with your professors or graduate student instructors (GSIs) outside of class time. Sound intimidating? That’s the secret– it isn’t! I’m not here to give you the same speech you’ll get 1000 times in college: “We highly recommend you go to office hours” or “office hours are great for asking questions about the class.” My goal is to tell you my experiences with office hours and the most unexpected results: friendship with professors and graduate students!
When I was a Freshman, my professors would announce at the beginning of each class to come to their office hours. As a first-generation college student, I had no idea what these would be like– my initial thought was if I went to ask a question, the professor would play devil’s advocate or judge me for not understanding the material. I never went to office hours my Freshman year, which was a huge regret for me.
Personally, I dislike living my life with regrets, so I knew I had to make up for this! Sophomore year was going to be my year. I went to every office hours my professors held… just kidding. Just like the year before, I didn’t go to a single one, because I had no idea what to talk about once I was there. At this point, I realized that maybe meeting with my professors just wasn’t for me.
Everything changed this past semester, when one of my GSIs spoke up in class about her research. I was completely in awe of how cool her work was and was inspired by this total #GirlBoss. My own academic interests lined up with hers so well, I took the plunge and went to my first office hours (a double feat, considering it was also on Zoom). The conversation we had was incredible, and it easily led into other topics– by the end I felt like I was chatting with a friend. I told her my interest in pursuing grad school and she shared tips that I still think about.
Months later, the same GSI reached out to me over email, detailing a research position at UCSF that was open. She encouraged me to reach out to the head of the project about accepting an undergraduate researcher, acting as my reference. As you might imagine, I got the position and felt on top of the world! This office hours experience was so good, I felt excited to meet with future GSIs and professors.
This semester, instead of waiting to feel a connection with the professor/GSI, I decided to take a more proactive approach. My goal became to go to every professor’s office hours at least once- which I ended up accomplishing!
Let me give you a little guide here:
- Start by introducing yourself (year, pronouns, major, interests). More than likely, the person you are meeting with will bounce off this and ask questions about you. It is very important to reciprocate with a detailed response and questions of your own that relate to the subject. For example, you could say you are interested in public health, in which your professor may ask what about it. Here you will tell them your deep interest and in return ask if they have experiences in the field.
- If you have questions about the class or course content, do not hesitate to ask for clarifications.
- Prepare one question as a backup. This question should be a basic question that any professor can answer, for example I often ask, “Is what you studied in undergrad the same thing you got a PhD for and how did you decide?” Ideally, you won’t need to use this question, but it’s great to have in your back pocket if the conversation isn’t going anywhere. I ask it, because I want to go to grad school, but am not sure if I will do it in Anthropology. The trick for you is to ask a question that will help you and/or you find interesting. (For GSI’s I always ask if they took a gap year between undergrad and grad school).
- Just be natural and try not to have too many expectations for the meeting. The goal for you should be to meet the professor/GSI and get them a feel for who you are! Everything else comes second.
Other benefits of office hours include: ability to get letters of recommendation, references for jobs/research, extensive networking opportunities, and a relationship with the professor/GSI.
Good luck with your academic endeavors and have a fun time during office hours!