What are office hours? What’s expected?

Office hours are a great time to talk 1-to-1 with your tutors. It helps you. It helps them.

This is more-or-less a stairwell conversation recently had about the nature of academic office hours in which students were expected to attend.

Conversation about Office Hours

You: Hey Joe, what are “office hours”?

Me: It’s time when I’m in my office.

You: Eh?

Me: Sorry. It’s time reserved for students to visit. I’m in my office. I don’t make appointments for the time I’m in my office hours. I’m there for drop-in visits from students.

You: Yeah, but I can knock on your door whenever I want. Sometimes you’re in; sometimes, not. What’s the difference?

Me: That’s hit-and-miss. You’re taking your chances, and my office is at the top of a long staircase. I’m in my office during my office hours for sure. Also, come on! I deserve a bit of respect. My office is a workplace, and I’ve got a lot of work to do. Random visits can be great. But they also can be disruptive to marking, researching, writing, and even eating my lunch. Office hours help me balance the many demands I have on my time and give extra time for those students who seek out that opportunity. I hate sending people away when they appear randomly at my door or when I’m in the middle of something else. After all the effort you took to get there… but my time is finite, and I need to prioritise.

Use the office hours set by your tutors; it's your time

You: What if I can’t make it to your office hour? Can I never visit?

Me: You’re never stuck. We always can make an appointment. Lots of people make appointments. You can too. Simply ask. More deeply, when setting office hours for students, I try to guess when in the week students will most likely be free from modules. Sometimes I get it wrong. (One term, not a single student came to an office hour. My fault, as I guessed a time when everyone was in class!) If that happens, talk with me. If I can add a new time, or change something, I’m happy to do it. Remember, I want to be helpful, and we’re in this together. Don’t be shy.

You: Can I phone you, instead?

Me: Sure. Give it a go. Details in the UCL directory. But if I’m talking face-to-face with someone, they get preference. Leave a message, and I’ll phone back.

You: You want me to use the telephone? Man, you’re an geezer. What about my apps? Can I use my apps?

Me: That’s not going to be good interaction. Come into your university. Make use of your tutors and the time specifically dedicated to you.

[post-COVID addition: I use Teams for office hours, too. So if you cannot make it to the department, use Teams.]

Me: I’m also away 22 Gordon is not accessible above the basement. If you have a mobility issue that prevents you moving higher in the building, all you need to do is let me know. We will organise alternatives. That’s easy.

Gordon Square terrace - 22 Gordon Square is home to UCL Department of Science and Technology Studies (STS) | ProfJoeCain

You: What can I use your office hour for?

Me: Try these:

Topic OK for Office Hours?
pastoral needs and assignments Yep. Top priority.
module content, degree planning, academic advice Yep.
careers stuff, help from a mentor Yep.
you just aced something and you want to brag Yep. I love to hear this kind of news.
you got some feedback and want to talk about how you might improve – any module Yep. This is one thing we really want to be helpful with but find students rarely ask about.
you want to “pick your brain” or “bounce an idea” or “use you for a sounding board” – whatever metaphor you want to use for talking about an vague idea you have. Yep.
-A place to sit for lunch,
-A charge point for your phone,
-A cup of tea?
-Yep, but I’m going to talk with you about stuff like careers, modules, and your coursework. Juice isn’t free.
-Maybe. If you like black tea with no milk and no sugar, you might have a chance with that.
NetFlix choices, new dance moves, anything about dogs, music, or politics. I’ve got nothing here. I’m simply going to tell you to read New Scientist. (You should read New Scientist, every week.)
You’ve read one of my articles and have a few suggestions on how I might reframe the research question to make a stronger point. Best make an appointment. Bring biscuits.