As the Fall semester comes to an end, students are frantically turning in term papers, taking their last round of midterms, and reluctantly beginning to think about their upcoming finals. While there is no magic solution for securing a high GPA, there is one resource from which all students can benefit: Office hours.
For many students, the idea of chatting with a professor one-on-one is more anxiety-inducing than any exam, but it’s essential; office hours are arguably the best way to get to know the person who is grading your work.
What should I talk about at office hours?
Although meeting with a professor or teaching assistant (TA) outside of class might seem intimidating, there is no faster way to establish rapport with a teacher than to stop by their office. In all four years that Kieran Jimenez, PhD candidate in the Department of Political Science, has been a TA, he has always found this to be true.
“Office hours can be a moment to add […] that personal aspect [of learning], where the TA can see that there's a person behind the paper that he or she is marking,” Jimenez said. “The student can have the same opportunity to talk to the person behind the marks that appear on his or her essays.”
Office hours are meant for more than just the academic. For Rachel Zellars, a course lecturer in Gender, Sexuality, and Feminist Studies, meeting with professors and TAs outside of class is crucial for addressing personal issues that may impede a student’s learning. Although it may not always feel like it, most professors and TAs only want to help their students.
“For me, it is essential to have a large chunk of time for office hours,” Zellars said. “Whether it’s taking the opportunity to listen to personal stuff [to] support [the student] in some way, or listening to and working through ideas that would become an assignment, just having a conversation about needing an extension for an assignment [matters].”
Office hours also provide students the chance to have a private tutorial with the professor; it’s the perfect opportunity to clarify confusing concepts or remedy miscellaneous issues that might feel awkward to ask in a 500-person lecture.
How do I get over my nerves about going to office hours?
Admitting that you don’t understand a concept can be daunting at first. This was the case for Abigail Leblanc, U0 Arts, who recently met with one of her political science professors for the first time to discuss a grade she was unhappy about.
“Honestly, I was terrified because he’s the professor of 600 people and he’s never seen me before, obviously, but you just have to do it,” Leblanc said.
Afterward, Leblanc realized how important and unexpectedly rewarding office hours are.
“Usually your teacher will surprise you and be pretty nice,” Leblanc said. “Not many people go, so you’ll probably get good one-on-one help as well, like I was the only one there when I went.”
Coming prepared with questions and talking points can help students feel prepared to attend office hours.
“I’ll usually have a list of questions and some follow-up questions,” Sebastian Pazdan, U3 Arts said.
Getting into the habit of making lists beforehand can help calm nerves, organize thoughts, and clear the mind. Additionally, lists help to specify the scope of questions and allow students to get the most out of their office hours.
What can I do to boost my GPA beyond going to office hours?
Attending one professor’s office hours is not the only way for students to get a leg up; familiarizing oneself with other resources available within their specific department can help in this realm.
Contacting other TAs and professors, joining student-led Facebook groups, booking appointments with the McGill Writing Center, or setting up study sessions with students and tutors can boost students’ GPAs. BookUp Study Groups, an app, allows students to plan and organize study groups on an online public or private forum, ending the hassle of scheduling study sessions and facilitating the process of finding people to study with on the McGill campus.
While it might be nerve-wracking to be vocal in office hours or class participation, taking that leap of faith and communicating with professors is worth it.
“It never hurts to go to office hours,” Jimenez said. “Once you get over the hurdle of [going for the] first time it’s always easier to do it again.”