Speaking with Instructors

Building relationships with your professors and teaching assistants (or graduate assistants) can be key to clarifying confusing concepts, learning more about the discipline and department, and understanding their teaching style. They may connect you to new resources for career opportunities and scholarships. Instructors also tend to provide stronger letters of recommendation and may extend research opportunities to students they know well.

It is recommended that you meet with all of your instructors at least once a term. This is particularly true for large lecture classes, as you will likely not get one-on-one time with your instructor unless you schedule a meeting or visit during office hours

You should plan to visit several days or week before an exam. Instructors often meet with many students right before an exam, so it’s best not to wait until the last minute.

Office Hours

  • In American universities instructors typically host office hours.
  • Instructors want you to visit them and they expect you will take the initiative.
  • During office hours, you can ask questions, review material, or learn more about the instructor’s research.
  • Your instructor’s office hours are usually listed in their syllabus or in their email signature. You can also email them to request a meeting; instructors will arrange an appointment with you if you cannot meet them during their advertised office hours.

Prepare for Your Meeting

Visiting with instructors can be intimidating. Preparing for your meeting can make you feel more confident.

  • Introduce yourself and mention why you have enrolled in the course. If you’re taking the course to fulfill a requirement, that’s okay.
    • Let the instructor know who you are and what you hope to learn during the semester.
  • Come with a specific question: Instructors meet many students during their office hours and your initial meeting may only last 10-15 minutes. To use the time effectively, come with a specific question that the professor can answer that would not be addressed in class.
    • Your question may about an upcoming exam, a recent activity in class, research opportunities, or planning for your future career.
  • Bring your notes: If you are asking for help in preparing for a test or exam, bring your notes, the textbook, the instructor’s lecture notes, and any other relevant material.
    • Be prepared to share your notes with your instructor to demonstrate that you have studied on your own.
  • Take notes: Your professor will probably share advice, information, or study strategies with you. You’ll want to remember them for later.
  • Ask about your instructor’s interest for their subject. Instructors have dedicated their lives to their research and they are often very passionate about discussing it. Getting to know your instructors may help you appreciate your course differently and you may find inspiration for your own career path.
    • You may also want to ask what sources of information (e.g. Twitter, research journals, or discipline-specific magazines) they use to stay current in their field.
  • Avoid giving feedback unless requested: While many instructors are interested in learning from their students, office hours may not be the best time for these conversations. Office hours are primarily a way for professors to give feedback to students, not the other way around.
    • If you do decide to give feedback to a professor, be sure to follow the guidelines for giving good feedback to others.

 

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