November 26, 2018
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I remember the first time I went into office hours. It was the fall of my first year at Kenyon and I was going to see my advisor, Professor Dairon, who also taught the most challenging class I was taking at the time. I was so nervous. While I had, of course, consulted with my advisor multiple times before in order to choose courses and attended his class twice a week, the concept of going to a professor’s office to ask a one-on-one, open-ended question seemed daunting.
It was fine. More than fine, in fact, and I continue to frequent that professor’s office hours to this day. He is still my advisor.
I am now a senior working on my senior exercises, 20-30 page research papers we call “comps,” in two majors. Several weeks ago I stopped by the office hours of a professor I had never met but whom I was told had a background in my area of study and would be a valuable resource. I was nervous again. I introduced myself and reiterated my topic choices as I had listed them in my email and apologized, eager to make sure I did not present myself as a burden to an already very busy scholar. I said I was just wondering if she had any basic guidance she could give me.
An hour later I emerged with a list of 15 sources, the name of another professor interested in talking to me, and the sense that I must have missed so many interesting people in my three years on the Hill so far. The beginning of the end of college means the beginning of looking back at your experiences, both academic and social, and the people that helped and influenced you along the way. I realized then that I had been hesitant to talk to professors outside of class despite the many benefits of doing so. Going to office hours in college is not sucking up — it’s part of being a curious and intellectually responsible individual. In case you don’t believe me, just don’t feel like going or are still nervous, here’s a little guide to help you out:
Top 10 Reasons to Go to Office Hours
1. It’s literally in their job description. Professors have to talk to you. And most of them want to.
2. Many Kenyon professors are known to have dogs. And to bring them to office hours. Think of all the tail wags you’re missing.
3. Even if you don’t know exactly what you need help with or what question to ask, professors are incredibly valuable resources for helping you organize your thoughts. This is, after all, a liberal arts college: thinking is our thing.
4. Multiple professors are also known to have candy in their offices. Academic and moral support, plus an energy boost.
5. Choosing a major, a research topic or a class can be hard, and you’ll be stuck with your choice for quite some time. While these decisions are ultimately yours, it never hurts to think out loud around someone who knows the field well, and knowing you have faculty support and another source of ideas is often very encouraging.
6. Dogs. (Sorry, cat people, I have no stats on the feline situation).
7. Kenyon professors are interesting, interested, and were in your shoes once, which means they can be great role models. Asking about professors’ interests in their fields outside of the courses they teach and how they came to be where they are can often inspire you to think about possibilities for your own future.
8. Professors don’t live in the classroom (much like our elementary school teachers didn’t live at school, even if we all believed that very strongly for quite some time). Entering a professor’s personal professional space is both nerve-racking and inspiring. Seeing the shelves and shelves of books they have read and compiled their knowledge from can be exciting.
9. I hate to break it to you, but four years isn’t a lot of time. Talk to them now, before it’s too late!
10. Again, dogs.