Tips for Getting to Know Your Professors

Students sit around desks talking to their professor at UC Davis.
George Abinader and Clibe Willkom, economics majors, work with lecturer Janine Wilson during her office hours. (Gregory Urquiaga/UC Davis)

University life is full of opportunities. However, you have to have the courage to take them. Navigating resources at a large university can be daunting, but to fully reap the benefits of being at such institutions, you need to put yourself out there. Most students seldom take advantage of one of the greatest resources: professors! Lots of professors want to help you, but often they want to see that you put in the effort first. 

There are many benefits to getting to know your professors beyond increasing your grade. They can also help you find a research position, mentor you and write letters of recommendation, to name a few. The easiest way to get to know your professors is to attend office hours.

Tips for what to ask during office hours

Fiona Rose Beyerle smiles at UC Davis.
The author of this blog post, Fiona Rose Beyerle, recently graduated from UC Davis with a biological sciences major and an art history minor. (Mihiri Kotikawatta)
  1. Introduce yourself! Professors may forget to ask for your name, especially if there are a lot of students in office hours.
  2. Ask detailed questions about the course content that show you have been paying attention and studying on your own. Avoid asking general questions about the syllabus, for example, that can easily be answered by looking at the course information on Canvas.
  3. Try to be as specific as possible about your questions. Professors likely don’t have time to reteach a broad topic in office hours. Instead, pinpoint where your confusion is or ask if you can explain the concept so they can correct your understanding, if necessary. 
  4. Bonus: If there is time (for example, probably not before a big test) ask them about their research. This will demonstrate your interest in the subject and could help you acquire a research position with them if they have openings!

Alternatives to office hours

A professor in front of a blackboard chats with a student at UC Davis.
Sara Hawkes, Math and Science Coordinator for the Student Academic Success Center at UC Davis, works with students during her office hours. (Karin Higgins/UC Davis)

If you can’t attend office hours due to work or other commitments, ask your professor if you can schedule a one-on-one meeting with them. Additionally, lots of courses have class discussion boards where you can post questions 24/7. These are not only excellent resources to get help from the professor, TA (teaching assistant) and other students, but also a great way to stand out to your professor. If you are someone who knows the material well enough to explain concepts to other students, professors will definitely appreciate your help in clearing up confusing concepts in a student-friendly way!

Still, if you find yourself having difficulty standing out in a large class or are nervous to talk directly to the professor, TA’s are another amazing resource. They are not only knowledgeable about the subject but also students like you, so they may be easier to relate to. TA’s also work in labs and can help you get into research, mentor you or give you study tips! 

Overall, college has many opportunities for career and academic growth — if you step out of your comfort zone and take them! 

Fiona Rose Beyerle graduated in 2021 with a biological sciences major and an art history minor. She’s also an intern on STREAM, UC Davis' student social media team.

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