Faculty Office Hours Are Different from TA Office Hours

So, you may not realize that faculty office hours are often very different from what you experience in TA office hours, which tend to be dedicated to help with the current assignment. By definition, office hours are time set aside for students, but beyond that, a wide range of things are possible. Here’s how you might use faculty office hours to begin building a relationship with a potential mentor, advisor, or just a professor you want to know a little better.

What do you say?

You don’t have to come in with questions about how to do a problem set or asking for advice on the essay, although that's an option. Think of interesting questions to ask--questions that show you are making connections and thinking beyond the basics. Some conversation-starters to take to office hours might include:
  • What sort of research do you do? how did you know you like that field?
  • I read this article that connects to what we were talking about in class the other day--what do you think of it?
  • The other day you said “oh, but we don’t have time to get into that” in lecture--can you tell me a bit more about that?  (note: professors are giving you hints about what to ask!)
  • I’d love to know more about the topic of today’s class--can you recommend something I might read?
  • I read this article you wrote and I was wondering...

Do you have to be in their class to go to office hours?

Some professors with very large classes or complex schedules may set aside certain hours dedicated to that class, but it’s more common that office hours are open to all students. Professors are often quite pleased by a visit from a former student.

Do you have to make an appointment?

Some professors use appointments, some just do drop-in, some do a mix. Generally, whether you are in the class or not, whether you have an appointment or not, it’s safe to show up at office hours and say something like “Hi, I’m a sophomore here and I’m really interested in X. I saw you had office hours--is this a good time or can we schedule an appointment for later?” Obviously, have your calendar handy for this one (and be sure to get to the appointment! Faculty do not like no-shows and canceling at short notice isn't great either).

How do you know when office hours are?

This one is tricky. The easiest way is usually to look on a current syllabus. Even if you aren’t in the class, you might be able to view the syllabus through the syllabus archive. A few departments publish office hours on the website as part of their Faculty Profiles (such as Art & Art History and English). Professors might have office hours posted on their office door if you go by the office, or if you ask in the department office, they might be able to tell you. But sometimes email is your only option, especially if they aren’t teaching that quarter.

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