New York University's independent student newspaper, established in 1973.

Washington Square News

New York University's independent student newspaper, established in 1973.

Washington Square News

New York University's independent student newspaper, established in 1973.

Washington Square News

Conquer your office hours anxiety with these 4 tips

Office hours can be intimidating, but don’t let that stop you. Here are four ways to make meeting with your professor a less painful experience.
Max Van Hosen
(Illustration by Max Van Hosen)

Whether you’re just starting college or a senior dreading graduation, the fear of office hours is real. Although it took me a couple semesters to finally build up the courage to meet with a professor one-on-one, I’m so happy that I eventually did. ​​Office hours can be a great resource for any student, whether you have a comment on a reading, a question about an assignment, or even those spiraling thoughts on a future career. While it’s completely normal to be anxious about first impressions with a professor, don’t let that stop you from taking advantage of everything office hours can offer.

To avoid last-minute second-guessing, here are four of my tips for making office hours more comfortable.

Come with a question — or a few

One of the most nerve-racking parts of office hours can be that you are meant to lead the discussion, so come prepared. Now is the time to dig through your reading and lecture notes and whip out all the questions you’ve left in the margins. If you’re especially nervous about an awkward silence, writing out all your questions and comments can give you a script to fall back on. I’ve found this super helpful when I get anxious and start to forget what I originally meant to ask. Having your questions written on a piece of paper or even just in your notes app for reference will not only keep the conversation going, but also ensure that you stay focused and get all your questions answered.

Teaching assistant office hours, or opt for online

If you’re particularly anxious about speaking directly to your professor, then sessions with TAs might be the right choice for you. Not too long ago, your TAs were undergraduates like you, studying in similar classes. Even though they’re now graduate students, they can still feel more approachable than your professor. I find it’s generally much easier to casually discuss my concerns with them — without fearing that I will say something wrong — than it is with my professors. Plus, they are usually the ones who grade your papers and assignments, so it doesn’t hurt to go to them first.

If you still want to talk directly to your professor in a more casual setting, online office hours can be a great alternative. Not only could it be more convenient for both your and your professor’s schedules, it also lets you express your concerns from the comfort of your own room, maybe even in your favorite pajama pants. 

Get to know your professor

It’s understandable to be intimidated by your professor with their many degrees and years of experience, but remember that they were once in your shoes too. Behind all those accolades is just a regular person like you and me. Sometimes, realizing that your professor is an ordinary person can lift the veil of intimidation and make it easier to talk without worrying about them judging you. 

If you’re still feeling jittery, it can be helpful to work toward getting to know them on a more personal level and get more comfortable speaking with them in general. For example, you could inquire about their past research or even ask for a book recommendation. As conversations become less stressful — and your professor finally learns your name — you might even find yourself a new mentor.

Bring a classmate

If you’re specifically worried about the one-on-one part of office hours, then just cut that part out completely and bring a classmate. With someone else there to help fill the silence, the pressure isn’t solely on you to carry the conversation. Instead of it feeling like a daunting interview where you have to say the exact right thing, bringing a classmate can make it feel more like a casual discussion. 

Since all students can benefit from office hours, consider asking that one person who you always happen to sit next to in class if they want to join you at the meeting — it’ll take the stress off both your shoulders. Who knows? You could even gain a new friend in the process.

Contact Brianna Ly at [email protected].

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