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Saturday, October 16, 2021

Office hour etiquette 101

With finals fast approaching, professors and teaching assistants (TAs) are seeing an influx of students attending their office hours. However, not all students understand that there is a wrong and a right way of approaching office hours.

The best way UC Davis students can take advantage of this extra time is by showing interest, being considerate and respecting their professor’s time constraints.

Ana Merkel, a Spanish professor, said students should inquire about the professor’s research and the subject matter during office hours.

“The best thing a student can do [during office hours] is to show interest in the class and the subject, ask questions to improve skills or just come in and have a conversation with me in Spanish,” Merkel said.

Virginia Hamilton, a communication professor, said she has a different approach to office hours. She suggests that students should come into her office hours with a specific purpose and goal.

“It’s really hard for us if people use our office hours to chat … I prefer when students are more sensitive to time constraints. I don’t want to give a private lecture,” Hamilton said.

Jessica Rea, a senior psychology major, said office hours are helpful, but students should have specific questions ready.

“Make sure you’re prepared with what you want to ask. It’s hard to come up with questions to randomly ask,” Rea said.

According to Merkel, one of the purposes of office hours is to improve the relationship between the professor and student. She said some of the most annoying things a student can ask are inappropriate and personal questions.

Hamilton also recommends students attend office hours because it helps to develop the relationship with the professor.

“I learn the names of my office hour friends. It helps them in the future if they ask for favors such as letters of recommendation or for me to read over their personal statements,” she said.

Hamilton does not like when students ask her to discuss broad topics, especially those already covered in class.

“I don’t like when students ask, ‘Can you help me study for exams?'” Hamilton said.

Going to office hours can sometimes be intimidating to students. Merkel, a native of Peru, respects the culture here at UC Davis, but also likes other universities where students and professors can interact in the cafés located inside the classroom buildings.

“There is a different system in Peru. [Office hours] are less of a formal situation. Students can just talk to a teacher or even administrators over coffee,” Merkel said.

Rea attends office hours at least once per class per quarter. Although she regularly goes, she is a little intimidated to meet one-on-one.

“I don’t know [the professors] personally and I don’t want to act stupid and say the wrong thing or for them to think I am stupid,” Rea said.

She also said that when writing formal papers, going to TAs’ office hours can be especially useful.

“They’re the ones grading your paper,” Rea said.

Hamilton, who tries to create an open and communicative environment in her office, said she does not understand why students are wary of attending office hours.

“Students shouldn’t be intimidated. It’s our job to be here during that time period,” she said.

Although Hamilton said students always attend her office hours, Merkel sometimes has empty office hours.

“I feel like either students are not really interested or maybe I’m doing a great job. If no one shows up, I read lots of books, write lesson plans. I just work because I need a lot of time to prepare for class,” Merkel said.

Professors and TAs cannot personally connect with hundreds of students in a large lecture format. Merkel and Hamilton said office hours can be enjoyable for both the student and professor if the student comes in with an appropriate attitude.

“Relationships get created through office hours and by communicating purposefully,” Hamilton said.

GRACE BENEFIELD can be reached at features@theaggie.org.

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