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Work and Life Toolbox

How (and Why) to Meet With Your Professors

When you go to office hours to meet with your professors, you don’t have to have a specific plan. You can talk about why you are enjoying the class and share information about yourself as a student; you can do some online investigation of the professor’s research interests and ask about that research; you can inquire about out-of-the-classroom experiences that your professor might recommend for a student who’s excited about his or her field.

Think of the meeting as the beginning of a professional relationship. Use these guidelines to help you start that relationship “on the right foot” and to gain confidence as you prepare.

From the Faculty

Riché Barnes, Assistant Professor of Afro-American Studies

Aim to meet with every one of your professors at least once every semester. Your professor sets office hours because he or she is interested in meeting and talking with you!

Read More Faculty Comments...

Gary Felder, Professor of Physics

Many students are nervous about coming to a professor’s office and overcoming that reluctance is one of the most important steps that they can take toward succeeding at Smith. I also tell my students at the beginning of each semester that if my office hours aren’t convenient for them that’s no reason to not come and see me. E-mail me and I’m always happy to arrange a meeting time with them.

Mary Murphy, Senior Lecturer of Mathematics and Statistics

Unlike high school, where your teachers didn't have private offices or much time when they weren't in class, Smith faculty have both. I want and expect to talk with you outside of class, whether to pursue with you something from the course that sparked your interest or to give you a hint when you’re stuck on a problem. Office hours give me a chance to know each student personally. Seeking out an instructor during office hours isn't a sign of weakness! Nor should you be shy about visiting a faculty member who's not your instructor.

David Newbury, Professor Emeritus of History

When I have first year advisees, I ask them to think back to how much they grew over their high school years — how different they are now from the time they entered high school. Then I challenge them to change as much over the next four years. To be sure, the changes are different: In high school, the changes are physiological and social; in college, the changes are more in intellectual depth and values — the way they see the world, and their place in the world. But while perhaps less physically evident, the changes over the college years are often deeper than those over the high school years.

I do this because many students entering Smith feel "they have arrived" — they’ve been very successful in high school; they are at a prestigious college. I suggest that they be prepared to let go of the person they are now — and of the concepts they hold deeply — and allow themselves to grow in new directions. It’s hard to let go of the person you are when you've been so successful in the past, but being willing to risk that is the only way to grow and develop into the person you can be.

Ambreen Hai, Associate Professor, English Language and Literature

Think of the professor as someone on your side, someone who wants you to do better and is there to help you figure out how to do it. But it’s best not to get confrontational or demanding about a grade. Based on what I have seen in academia, I think that younger women professors and faculty of color get relatively more students who question their authority or expertise, especially regarding grades. I think it’s important to reflect on how often attitudes towards faculty are colored by unconscious prejudices about gender, race, nationality or age.

Before the Meeting

When You Get to Your Professor’s Office

If You Need to Miss a Scheduled Meeting


The Wurtele Center for Work & Life developed this guide based on feedback from more than 30 Smith College professors, and in conjunction with:

When you start your first job, you'll be glad you practiced this skill at Smith!

Stacie Hagenbaugh, Director of the Career Development Office, tells you why in this one-minute video.