Why Office Hours Are Important

When I first got to college, adults around me insisted “Don’t be afraid to go to office hours and talk to your professors!” and “Make sure your professors know who you are so they can write you good references for grad school!” I thought this was absurd, partially because it seems obvious to me that our professors should know who we are, and in part because I thought it was manipulative to only get close to your teachers for good letters of recommendation. While it is true that it is important to have good references for post-graduate plans for applying to jobs and grad schools alike, I think there is more value in talking to professors beyond these things.

I am not shy about going to my professors during their office hours for help when I need it. Sometimes, I have trouble recognizing that I need the help, but that would be tangential to what I want to discuss here.

In the past few weeks, I have been swamped with coursework, extracurriculars, my internship, plus making time for my friends and for myself to relax after each action-packed day, all in the wake of readjusting to Kenyon after going abroad. Needless to say, I have felt overwhelmed and discouraged that I don’t remember how to function at Kenyon again or at all, let alone in the world beyond Kenyon that is approaching far too quickly for this junior to comprehend.

Also in the past few weeks, however, I have gone to office hours to talk to various professors of mine intending to meet for fifteen to twenty minutes and staying for over an hour. I would ask them about my classes, schedules and papers, but move to asking about how to prepare for comps and grad school. It opened my eyes in ways for which I am eternally grateful, giving me some sliver of direction in a moment in which I feel endlessly lost and confused. Combined with the support of my friends, my professors inspire me to keep moving forward. To further this, here are some more general reason why talking to your professors, including those outside your department, can be ultimately beneficial to your life.

 

1. Professors are here to help.

They are not the enemy. They are not sitting in their offices, cackling about how to make their students fail and destroy their self-esteem forever. They do not plot for the destruction of their students, but aim for their success. They want to help students to not only succeed, but to thrive. Sometimes, that means a harsh learning process that forces you to recognize what you know in a new way. For me, it was that I do not know everything. It was hard. I struggled a lot and numerous times, I felt like I failed. But I pushed forward and kept going, using my professor’s guidance and support in sorting through the chaos of my brain to unearth some incredible thoughts, arguments, and papers I had in me all along.

 

2. They know more than you do.

It’s okay to admit you don’t know everything. It’s okay to say “I don’t know” and “Honestly, this reading did not make sense to me. Can you help me?” It’s all the more admirable to be admitting that you need help and showing you want to learn rather than quietly suffering and not understanding, and doing worse in the long run.

 

3. They can guide you.

This goes along with the whole “they know more than you do” thing. They have likely been here for years. They have been where we are now, trying to figure out what to study, what to do with their degree, and how to achieve their hopes, dreams, and goals. Thus, who better to guide you than someone who has been there? They also likely know about opportunities that you may never have considered, and encourage you to go for ones when you doubt yourself.

 

4. But they can’t do the work for you.

Although sometimes our advisors and professors can feel like a parent or guardian beyond those we already have, they are not going to do the work for you. They are not here to fill out your applications or tell you which opportunities to take over others. It is not their job to take the GRE or LSAT or MCAT or whatever other exams out there that sound scary and bring back terrible memories about the SAT and ACT. They can help read your applications essays, or decide on topics for papers of all sorts. There is a degree of agency available to us in deciding what we do and what we don’t. It’s based on how much work we are willing to put in to accomplish our goals, even something as small as simply filling out the application. You can’t get opportunities for which you never tried for in the first place.

 

5. They want the best for you.

Again, your professors do not want you to fail. They want to see you flourish into the best student and person that you can be. There is no feeling quite reminiscent of knowing a professor you look up to is proud of you (at least for me).

 

I am not going to say that I am never intimidated by professors I have never met before or feared that professors don’t like me. I think that is fairly universal experience. Our professors are brilliant intellectuals who know the subject we may be barely starting to learn about like the back of their hand. I may be idealistic in saying this, but I believe that professors are here because they are passionate about their subject and eager to share their vast knowledge with those who seek it.

If anything, our professors’ passion for their subject translates into the conversations they are willing to have about the subject day after day, year after year. From my experience, professors are eager to help you and to support you if you seem to be struggling. The amount of life advice I have gotten is massive, especially considering that most were from professors other than my advisor. Professors are a resource like the books that fill the library, but can answer questions beyond their subject of study.

I love going to office hours. I crave knowledge and am naturally curious and seeking to know and understand more and more with every moment and every new thing I explore. I go to my professors as much for intellectual knowledge in reference to classes as I do understanding my life and my experiences. I leave their offices with such a sense of clarity and determination that I can achieve that which they have guided me to seeing is possible and within my grasp. I am grateful for every moment, and look forward to how helpful they will continue to be for the remainder of my Kenyon experience. If I were you, I’d start now, if you haven’t already.

Image credits: Giphy.com