Braving Office Hours

By Nelia Perry ‘24

So, you’ve decided to attend a small college––meaning you must be interested in close student-to-faculty relationships. But, if you’re anything like me, you’re wondering how to actually create a close relationship with a professor.

small white dog in costume with sign encouraging voting
Prof. Dan O’Leary’s dog Coco

First of all, let me say not all of the work is on your part. AND, the work that is on you, isn’t actually all that much work. Your professors want to get to know you just as much, sometimes even more, as you want to get to know them. They will share pictures of their pets dressed up in Halloween costumes, tell you about their favorite not-so-healthy study and eating habits as graduate students, and invite you over for a meal (when on campus) or to a Zoom game-night (as has been the case in our virtual world).

Now, what can you do to ensure that you form those close relationships/mentorships that you imagined when deciding to come to Pomona? My number one tip: go to office hours.

I’m sure most of you have heard of office hours but maybe aren’t exactly sure what they are––I know I didn’t have the complete picture before starting college. All of your professors will have scheduled times each week open to all of their students. This is a time to ask questions about problem sets, get advice on a paper you are writing, and/or clarify lecture material you didn’t quite understand. It is also, and very importantly, a time to get to know each other. All of my professors always include a line in their syllabus or during lectures the first week that their office hours are open even if you just want to go by and ask a life question/get to know each other.

At first, I didn’t really know how to approach this. I remember planning out what I would ask my professors, how to incorporate life questions with questions on quantum mechanics or APA citations. Don’t get me wrong, I do still plan ahead sometimes, but I’ve come to realize they really mean it when they say office hours are an open space. For example, sometimes I join the office hour Zoom call just to have a study space. If a question comes up as I’m studying, the professor is right there to answer it. If I leave having asked no questions, I still showed my commitment to class, got a lot done, and had as close to a human connection as we get these days.

I acknowledge that sometimes, despite your best efforts, office hours are awkward. However, sometimes it is those awkward moments that bring you and your professor closer together.

screenshot of zoom office hours
Chemistry professor Li’s office hours

Some of my favorite office hour moments: helping Professor Muzikar shop for a shower curtain to use as a Zoom background, Professor Li showing us all of the different types of vinegars she uses in her kitchen, and when Professor Kuehlwein spent time asking me about my life story at the start of the semester.

The most important thing to remember: students and professors alike want to get to know each other. If you don’t have a question prepared, that doesn’t mean you can’t show up to office hours. Besides, going in blind with the potential to just listen to someone else’s questions and learn from that is also a great opportunity to get to know your professor in a new way. Try asking them what their plans are for the weekend or how they decided to be a professor. Look for areas of connection such as being from the same place, having the same breed of dog, or liking the same TV shows. Chances are, you have a lot more in common than you initially think.

It might take a little extra effort to get to really know your professors, but I promise that braving office hours from the very start of your college career will prove extremely valuable in the long run!