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Davis, California

Wednesday, July 17, 2024

Nervous about office hours? Here are some tips for talking to your professors

Professors and advisors share advice for students on how to approach them and other potential mentors


By KACEY CHAN — features@theaggie.org 


Students are always lectured about the importance of going to office hours and talking to their professors, but the actual experience can be rather intimidating, especially when approaching instructors with decades of experience and accumulated knowledge under their belts.

“Approaching professors as an undergrad definitely caused me anxiety,” said Cindy Alvarenga, an undergraduate academic advisor with the Economics, History and East Asian Studies Departments. “I feared rejection and embarrassment that I wasn’t able to grasp the concepts they were teaching me.” 

However, Alvarenga stressed the importance of getting over that “mental barrier” and said anxiety shouldn’t prevent students from attending office hours. 

“There are plenty of reasons why it is beneficial to go to office hours,” Alvarenga said. “They have resources, networks and opportunities for you to learn beyond the classroom.”

Magdalena Wojcieszak, Ph.D., a professor in the communication department at UC Davis, encourages students to come to her office hours. 

“Students are getting an education at a higher education institution, and professors can provide more in-depth examples, clarify their doubts and so forth,” Wojcieszak said. 

Wojcieszak highlights networking and future career opportunities as a valuable way professors can help their students.

“Having professors know you is incredibly beneficial for your future,” Wojcieszak said. “If they want to apply to graduate school, students can get letters of recommendation, or if they’re applying for industry professions, students can name a professor as a reference, offering good feedback on their performance.” 

Wojcieszak has written hundreds of recommendation letters for undergraduates. She said she is proud of the fact that she has helped those who were comfortable enough to attend office hours and be enthusiastic about the course. 

“I have served as references for industry positions and talked with HR departments from different companies,” Wojcieszak said. “[Those] students ultimately got jobs they wanted or got into their universities.” 

Students can even trust professors for advice on non-academic topics, according to Wojcieszak. 

“You can get intergenerational knowledge about the world, politics, the media and many different things from other professors,” Wojcieszak said. “At a university, you don’t really have that many opportunities to talk with people who are more senior in age and experience who can provide a different perspective on the world.” 

College is meant to prepare students for the real world, not only through classroom knowledge but also through interacting with leaders and professionals who are a part of your desired industry. Alvarenga said it is important for students to acknowledge their anxiety in talking to professors and face it head on. 

“Overcoming the barrier to talk to professors is one of the many skills students will learn for the workplace,” Alvarenga said. “Instead of professors, it will be a manager in the future, so learning how to ask for help will be beneficial later on.”

The nervousness associated with office hours can be overcome with practice. According to Wojcieszak, it is all about having a conversation at the end of the day.

“We really appreciate when students come to us, and the more you do it, the easier it becomes,” Wojcieszak said.

For students more anxious about going to office hours, Alvarenga recommends asking a friend in the class to come with you to ask questions together on concepts you are both struggling with. She also said it could be useful for students who don’t do well with large groups to ask for an alternative time to meet.

“Pick a good time,” Alvarenga said. “Approaching a professor after class can be difficult if they have back-to-back lectures, so office hours are best.” 

Lastly, Alvarenga stresses the importance of coming prepared. She recommends preparing questions in regard to the lecture, exams or research opportunities and said it can be useful to make an appointment with an academic advisor to discuss the meeting in advance. 

“If you don’t know where to start, ask an advisor,” Alvarenga said. “I had my major advisor to thank for overcoming many of my fears.” 

Wojcieszak wants to remind students that, ultimately, professors love it when students come to office hours and ask questions. 

“I find it very rewarding,” Wojcieszak said. “It is all about having a conversation, and students should remember that.”

Written by: Kacey Chan — features@theaggie.org