Why are faculty office hours important and how can you get the most out of them? We ask Dr David Woodruff, student Sara Watkins and recent graduate Jack Winterton for their tips and advice.
Don’t be shy!
If you’re not taking advantage of faculty office hours, you’re missing an important part of what LSE has to offer. Office hours are your best chance to have one-on-one discussions with faculty members, whether on specific questions arising from your courses, your general intellectual interests, or for guidance on getting the most out of your time at LSE.
Don’t think of coming to office hours as a ‘big deal’. You’re not obliged to prepare for office hours, and you should feel free to drop in with just a vague idea of what you want to talk about. However, if you have questions about a course reading, it can often be helpful if you have a specific page reference for the faculty member to look at—you can even send it by email in advance. (The online booking system lets you put some comments in, but they’re not delivered to us in an easy-to-read way, so email is better.) And if you’re looking for additional feedback on an essay, bringing a printed copy is a good idea.
One area where faculty members can be particularly helpful is in giving you pointers for what sort of research has been done on a topic that interests you. Most of our faculty find they have plenty of space available in their office hours, so don’t be shy!
A chance to talk about your studies and your wellbeing
Office hours are designed to enrich our academic experience, to enable us to meet with a member of academic staff to discuss any concerns we may have about wellbeing, to receive advice on our progress, assessments and examinations but, most importantly, to have the chance to interact on a one-to-one basis and chat in depth about our time at the school.
My experience of office hours at the LSE has been exactly that. The most important office hour to me has been those with my academic advisor. For our initial meeting in my first few weeks at the school, my academic advisor reached out to me and we met alongside her other advisees which was a great ice-breaker for a very nervous fresher like myself.
My advisor’s policy was always that if something was bothering me I should go and see her and use her as a first point of contact. As she would later learn, I took this quite literally. At numerous points during my academic career, I’m pretty sure my advisor had to replenish her stock of tissues as there were many tears and tantrums stemming from university pressures. Being able to speak confidently to a member of staff whom I trusted made me feel much more at ease especially during the intense periods of term (e.g. all the time!).
In order to get the most out of office hours I would always recommend letting your teacher know beforehand what you would like to discuss so they can have a chance to gather some thoughts around the area. The meeting time, whilst it may be short, has potential to be hugely effective therefore I would advise turning up with questions prepared to ensure you cover everything you wanted to discuss. As I experienced, office hours often become a place where you ‘let it all out’ and it makes a world of a difference to be able to confide in very capable and knowledgeable academics. I’m not afraid to say that I would not have managed to pursue my undergraduate degree had it not been for a chance to meet one-on-one with my advisors and teachers.
Office hours are there for a reason. They are our chance to connect with academics in one of two ways; firstly, to delve deeper into academic expertise and areas of interest, and secondly, to ensure that our wellbeing as students is at the forefront of the school’s development. I would strongly encourage every student at the school, whether a fresh faced first year or a slightly wiser third year to make use of office hours. It’s our chance to receive support and advice, but most importantly to voice opinions about teaching and wellbeing at the school.
Have a plan
I regularly attended office hour appointments during my time as a student at LSE. I would book the last office hour appointment scheduled in the hope that I would get a little longer to talk with the professor. I always prepared in advance of the meeting. Specific advice is what you want, here is how to get it:
1.) Have a plan. Don’t burden yourself with the pressure of thinking of organic content during the office hour. Instead, think of a few questions in advance of the meeting. I found that this helped me to articulate my points more concisely and, as a result, increased the likelihood of eliciting a more precise response.Even if you are attending the office hour because you don’t understand the content of a reading or lecture perhaps, still try and be precise. For example, tell the professor you understand (point x), (point y), but you’re really struggling with (point z). This way the professor (or class teacher) will know where to begin the discussion.
2.) Talk to the PhD students. When they have time and sufficient supply of coffee and snacks, the PhD students tend to offer advice that is more relatable because they are a little closer to the experiences you’re going through as a student.
3.) Mix it up and go and talk to professors from across the departments – there is no need to stick to your departmental silo. I thoroughly enjoyed talking to professors from across numerous different departments. In every case, I made sure that I had something interesting to say in advance.
I hope this helps you to make the most out of your office hours appointments. As a student adviser, I often help students to plan meetings with professors so come along to LSE LIFE if you want to talk about this (or anything else related to your studies at LSE).
Note: this article gives the views of the authors, and not the position of the LSE Department of Government, nor of the London School of Economics.