Each semester I find myself scrambling to contact my professors and TAs both in their office hours and over email at one particular time of the term: final exams.
In my first semester, however, I was worried that my professors and TAs didn’t have time for me or simply didn’t care to help me. I was wrong. Your professors and TAs will often hold extra office hours or respond to your emails faster during this time of the term because they know students are stressed or struggling. Take advantage of this support and clear up any questions you may have about your projects, essays or study materials. It is better to clarify your confusion than to guess on the assessment. Use the guidelines below for what to do and what not to do, when visiting office hours and emailing your professors and TAs.
Visiting Office Hours
- Do think about office hours as being necessary. They are part of what you paid for. Remember that office hours aren’t the professor’s or TA’s time – they are the students’ time. It is almost guaranteed that you do not fully understand everything you learned; office hours with professors and TAs can change that and they can do so in a one-on-one environment.
- Don’t take up the entire hour. Have a clear idea of what you are there for. Have your questions outlined, and maybe write them out if necessary. Have your laptop or textbook opened to the pages you need. While your professors and TAs are waiting for you to come see them, they are still busy people. Plus, there may be a line behind you, and you don’t want to take time away from someone else’s learning.
- Do build your network. Some time down the line you may want to apply to graduate school, or a new job, and you may need references. By meeting professors and graduate students, you can fill your network with professionals.
- Don’t request test answers or ask “where to start” on an assignment. Professors and TAs will, however, guide you through road bumps and help you understand.
Emailing Your Professors and TAs
- Do use email if you have limited time or an inability to get to campus during the exam season.
- Don’t expect an answer immediately. Or even within a few days. Be patient. Also keep in mind that some concepts can be difficult to explain through writing alone. If you are looking to carry on a series of emails, it is best just to go to office hours.
- Do be clear in your questions. My mother teaches at college and she has given me some advice about emailing. Keep your emails to the point, and be very clear and concise. Perhaps number your questions, or bold the question if there is only one.
- Don’t send an email from your personal account. Instead, send it from your school email account. Some professors and TAs might pass over emails without their school’s domain, thinking the email is spam, and your questions may never be answered.
- Do write with minimal grammatical errors. In high school, I often heard that my emails need to be flawless, or the professor/TA wouldn’t answer. While your email doesn’t need to be flawless, you should definitely proofread to limit errors. Sometimes a grammatical error can completely change the meaning of the email. If the professor or TA can’t read or understand your email, or has to take an hour to do so, they may not be able to respond. Solid written communication skills are not only important for school, but they are also key for your future career path.
These are a few dos and don’ts for how to best ensure your assignment and exam queries are answered during this busy time. You’ll learn from experience and, soon, you’ll have your own list of dos and don’ts for visiting office hours and emailing your professors and TAs.