The Secret Key to Academic Success: Office Hours

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Instructors can seem pretty intimidating, and that might be why some students are hesitant about going to office hours. 

All those acronyms behind their names and their seemingly effortless ability to recall a lifetime’s worth of knowledge might make you feel a little dizzy, especially at the thought of talking with them in a small group or one on one.

What office hours look like

Prof Jackie Stewart, who teaches CHEM 100 and SCIE 113, has been offering virtual office hours for more than a decade because she has found that she can accommodate more students through flexible scheduling, like providing evenings and weekends as options. She finds students are less intimidated by office hours when they are hosted online. 

Prof Stewart, like many of your instructors, is passionate about the importance of office hours and how much you can get out of them—when you bravely take it upon yourself to attend. She knows there are a few reasons why some students shudder at the thought of making office hours part of their academic routine, such as past bad experiences, the intimidation factor, and shyness. She also knows that when students do attend, good things happen. 

Office hours are informal sessions focussed on students 

In her group office hours online, two types of students attend: those who want to come to ask questions and those who just want to listen and absorb. You can have your camera on or off (though she finds the experience is better with the camera on) and you most likely won’t be the only one there. As an instructor, she’s also aware that not every student in her chemistry classes is passionate about the subject, and she doesn’t expect everyone to be.  

Whether you need feedback on a written assignment or have questions about complex problem-related questions, office hours with your instructors or Teaching Assistants (TAs) are a great opportunity to address what is holding you back.

Going to office hours can really improve your grades

Remember, instructors want you to succeed, and they don’t want you to fail, or feel like a failure. 

Prof Stewart’s tip for students who are feeling shy about office hours is to prepare a little before you check in, such as trying to solve your own problem first and being able to explain where you got stuck. You should also toss out the misconception that going to office hours means you’re not smart enough—in fact, it’s often the opposite: Students who participate in office hours often comprehend the course material better and finish the course with better marks. 

“I’ve seen thousands of students go through chemistry and organic chemistry and I know what works and what doesn’t work... Everyone in science at UBC has what it takes to succeed—and your instructor can help you make sure your hard work is directed toward the best study activities for the particular course.” 

— Jackie Stewart 

Prof Stewart’s tips for office hours: 

  • Firstly, go! Try not to let past bad experiences prevent you from making new, good ones and remember that your instructor or TA is there to help you succeed  

  • Identify what you need help with in advance and be able to demonstrate that you already tried to solve your own problem/question 

  • Find out if your instructor or TA offers one-on-one appointments if you would like more privacy discussing your questions  

  • Attend group office hours even if it’s just to listen to other students’ questions—you might learn how your classmates tackle problems differently or even make connections with them for a study group! 

  • Don’t think you have to fake interest in the subject if you’re really ready to get the class over with and move on—your instructor won’t be offended if your heart’s not in it; be on board to put in a good effort, and know that they are here to support you to meet the learning goals for the class