Whether you are an office hours veteran or novice, introvert or extrovert, here are some handy tips and tricks to help you make the most out of your meeting with your professor.
1) Arrive on Time
Professors are busy and no one likes to feel like their time is disrespected. Keep in mind that sometimes professors’ offices are not where you think they should be (i.e. not by the classroom, not by the department office) so remember to look up your prof’s office location before you go.
Tip: Aim to arrive at the meeting five minutes early. If you actually get there five minutes early, that leaves to time to…
2) Come Prepared
For some meetings, good preparation could be compiling specific questions about an assignment or a topic. For others, it could be having a draft of an essay or lab report. In any case, you always want to bring something to the table. You also need to make sure that you have all of the supplies that you need. For a lot of students, this means having a pen, paper, and any relevant readings.
Tip: Create a checklist of things you want to accomplish during the meeting. Sometimes you can have a great conversation with a professor and five minutes after you leave, you realize that you didn’t discuss anything you needed to cover. Quickly review your checklist before you leave to make sure you covered all your bases.
3) Diversions < Digressions < New Ideas
Because you scheduled this meeting, you know what you want to get out of it. Sometimes, the conversation will start to go in directions you did not expect. Take a step back every now and then to analyze if the discussion is still relevant or helpful to you.
Tip: If you want a kind and polite way to get a professor back on track, say something like: “I appreciate that idea and I will be sure to mull it over more, but I am wondering how it relates back to _____.”
4) Speak Clearly and Say What You Mean
It is hard to talk on the fly, especially about a topic that you are not completely comfortable with. However, expressing your thoughts as clearly as possible is so much more important than trying to “sound smart.” Here’s the secret: a clear, honest thought will always “sound smart,” even if you think the idea behind it is not totally earth-shattering.
Tip: If you have a complex thought and you don’t know how to express it, say that to your professor. He/she can help you break it down, which will be a really helpful exercise in itself.
5) Understand What Your Prof is Saying
In class, if a professor is being unclear, it may be easy to zone out for a little while until you want to plug back into the conversation (not that we recommend this habit). However, this does not fly in office hours. Ask clarifying questions early, often, and unabashedly. Your professors will take the cue and change the way they communicate accordingly.
Tip: To make sure that understand what the professor is telling you, repeat it in your own words. Restate some or all of his/her point before making yours. For example, “I like your idea of ______ and I think that really connects to ______.”
6) Be Mindful of Time
Your time is important. So is your professor’s. If you have a meeting with an ending time, you should expect to adhere to that limit and make sure you do everything you want to get accomplished in that time. However, if the length of your appointment is open-ended, it is a good idea to establish upfront the amount of time each of you can devote to the meeting. Say something like, “I was hoping to chat for about half an hour, does that work for you?”
Tip: In order to keep track of time, it is probably best to wear a watch, as you can keep track of time without interrupting the conversation by using your phone. However, if you have to use you phone, place it on the desk/table with your notes at the beginning of the conversation and say that it is just there to keep track of time.