by Katrina Knisely
I admit, I haven’t taken advantage of office hours enough during my time at Tufts, and I suspect many upperclassmen would agree. Especially as a freshman, talking to professors outside of class seemed intimidating. In reality, attending office hours is one of the smartest and easiest things you can do to get ahead at Tufts, especially in the economics department.
In this blog post, I hope to address some common concerns about office hours. A lot of advice applies to any subject, but if you see a *, that means it’s directly applicable to the Tufts economics department in particular.
Myth: Professors are too busy to meet with me.
FALSE! Follow these tips to maximize your time:
- Office hours are the times instructors set aside to talk to students in their office. This is part of their job description; your tuition pays for them to be there! If your schedule conflicts, email your professor to set up a mutually convenient time to meet.
- Even if a professor has regularly listed office hours, a good strategy is to make an appointment. “Dropping in” usually works, but I have found that with a scheduled meeting, you can ensure that s/he is expecting you and you probably won’t have to wait in line (as long).
- In a large lecture class, e.g. EC 5 or EC 13, your instructor might not have enough time to meet with everyone individually. Find out what his/her policies are, and if necessary reach out to your TAs or recitation leaders first. However, I’ve never met an econ professor who wasn’t happy to meet with students!
- About a third of Tufts economics instructors are part-time lecturers. Be aware that they aren’t at Tufts all the time and often require extra planning to meet outside of regularly scheduled office hours.
Myth: My professor will think I’m stupid.
FALSE! Except if you aren’t prepared…
- Do your homework – literally: Reread the course material to identify the parts you don’t understand. Take a substantial stab at the problem set or brainstorm possible paper topics before seeking help. “I feel so overwhelmed” or “I don’t know what to write about” don’t cut it: professors want to see that you’ve already made an effort, and they won’t do your thinking for you. There are no “stupid questions,” but professors do notice when you’re unprepared.
- Make a list of your specific questions and remember to take notes.
- Many economic concepts are better explained with a graph. Before going to see a professor with your question, I’ve found it’s helpful to draw a gigantic graph of whatever your question is on, taking up at least half or even a whole sheet of paper. Some professors don’t have white boards in their offices, so it gives you something to refer to and draw on right in front of you. Same goes for complicated formulas (e.g. stats, econometrics). Clear notes easier studying.
- Go to office hours in small groups if you’re shy. If 2-3 of you are having trouble, talking to the professor together will make you feel more confident, and you’ll benefit from hearing each other’s questions.
Myth: Office hours are only for students who don’t understand course material
FALSE! Even if you’re doing well in your classes, there are many other reasons to attend professors’ office hours.
- Introduce yourself – attach a face to a name early in the semester.
- Expressing your interest in a subject early might lead to research assistantships, independent summer research or a senior thesis. For example, ask about what research your instructor is currently doing or what publications s/he would recommend you read.
- Need an advisor? Even if you’ve never had the professor in class, email him/her to find out availability to be your advisor. In office hours, you can see if s/he would be a good fit for your academic interests.
- *Don’t know where your future is headed? Professors who know you and your work well are better equipped to give you advice. For example, they can help you figure out if you might be successful pursuing a Master’s or PhD in economics, and what classes at Tufts would best prepare you.
- You will need letters of recommendation. Building up a relationship with a professor and keeping in touch is essential. Your work freshman year will look a lot different from your work senior year, so if you can take another class taught by the same professor, even better. Professors can write much better recommendations about you if they’re familiar with not only your academic ability, but also your work ethic, progress over the years, motivations, future plans and overall character.
Myth: Office hours are my only opportunity to get help.
FALSE! Sometimes economics assignments require specialized knowledge that even our professors don’t have the time to help us with. Here are some additional resources:
- Meet with tutors for computer programs like Stata (http://www.tuftsecon.com/TEstata.html) and GIS (https://wikis.uit.tufts.edu/confluence/pages/viewpage.action?pageId=4948068)
- Use the library’s wealth of research tools.
- Sign up for a tutoring session for many econ and math classes through the ARC on Webcenter
- Google. Chances are, the answer is out there.
And finally, some comments on etiquette:
- Leave yourself time. Don’t show up in the last 15 minutes of office hours expecting a thorough answer to your questions – often instructors use this time to get ready for their next class or meeting.
- This isn’t social hour. You will get better recommendations by doing good work and asking meaningful questions than spending an hour talking about your summer vacation.
- Get to the point. Don’t monopolize time; be considerate of other students who might be waiting. Ask your most important questions first in case you get cut off.
Thanks for reading! If you found this post useful, you’ll probably be interested in the events the Tufts Economics Society hosts throughout the year. Sign up to hear about them by sending an email from your preferred address (include your name please!) to firstname.lastname@example.org.