The most underutilized resource at universities
Some professors have busy office hours filled with students, but most of us schedule office hours and have little to no contact with students unless there is a major exam, assignment, or activity that has an upcoming due date.
But, what are office hours? The office hour(s) is a scheduled time by the professor where they guarantee that they will be in their office to be available to students and their concerns. The main purpose is so students can ask questions about things that they either don’t understand or want a deeper understanding as related to a course. However, most professors are happy to discuss ideas beyond the course including advising, careers, new ideas, etc.
I want to go, how should I prepare?
This depends on the professor, but most professors have a basic expectation if you are coming to ask additional questions or get help for topics in a course. Note, the title above implies that you prepare for the office hour, and it should not be considered a time to redo a lecture. You should do some preparation before you walk in and ask questions. For example, imagine I have given you an assignment on topic X. You should first try to do work on topic X, you should search out resources (such as textbooks, internet, etc.) to help you on topic X, and then when you are having problems you can bring what you have done working with topic X, and we can look at what you are doing well and what is missing to allow you to make further progress. Don’t come in and just say, “How do I do this assignment?” or “I don’t get this?” without trying to learn on your own.
The same is true if you are going in for curriculum advice. You should have some idea what you courses you need to do in the future, and your meeting should be spent on questions that you are unsure of instead of simply saying, “What courses should I take?”
Preparing for a meeting is, likely, part of your future job, and it shows that you respect both the person you are meeting with as well as your own time.
What if I don’t have questions about …?
You should go to office hours even if you don’t have direct questions related to the course or advising. However, you should still prepare what you want to discuss before hand that is of real interest to you and is, likely, an interest of your professor. This might be tricky since you are learning an area where the professor is a more experienced person in the topic. Try open ended questions (the ones that can’t be answered yes/no) related to the course topics or your professors research since they may lead to interesting discussions.
Note, I suggest that visiting your professor is a good thing, but don’t overdo it. Just because a professor has scheduled time to meet with students, don’t spend all of that time. If you don’t have course or advising related questions, then an interesting discussion with a professor once or twice a semester would be good and not considered overbearing.