4 Conversation Starters for Office Hours

Photo:  iStock

Photo: iStock


You need to go to office hours. Period. When I first got to college, I didn't really understand the importance of this one-on-one time with professors. But I quickly learned that, through office hours, you can become more than just a name on a class roster, especially in larger classes. Office hours allow you to build relationships with professors, which may be useful for mentorship, recommendation letters, and (if you're lucky) a grade bump.


That said, sitting one-on-one with a professor can be intimidating. Here are some ways you can start a conversation with a professor during office hours.


Ask the Professor about their research.

Aside from teaching, professors spend a lot of time working on their own research projects. That research might be related to a class that you're taking with them, or it might not. Either way, one way to start a conversation with a professor during office hours is to ask them about their latest project(s). This will give the professor a chance to talk through some of their ideas, and will allow you to think about your own differently. Who knows, if things align, you might be able to work with the professor as a research assistant. Can't make any promises, though.


Conversation Starter #1

"Hi, Professor White. I know that you're teaching 'Intro to Social Psychology' this semester. But I'm curious. Are you currently working on any projects that are related to the themes of that class, or do they differ?"


Talk about your research interests.

Although office hours are usually reserved for the students in a professor's class, you can email the professor to see if they'd be willing to talk to you about your own research projects/interests. Or, if you're a student in their class, you can email the professor to see if they'd be down to help you think through your ideas for one of the class assignments.


Conversation Starter #2

"Hi, Professor Anderson. I'm currently working on a research paper about jazz during the twentieth century for my independent study. Since you specialize in jazz music, would you be willing to talk a little bit and help me think through my ideas?"


Ask for book recommendations.

Professors have spent years learning, reading, and writing about their research interests. So if you want to learn more about a particular topic, and it happens to align with something that the professor studies, you could use office hours to ask them for book recommendations. 


Conversation Starter #3

"Hi, Professor Jones. You briefly discussed the Civil Rights Movement in class. But I wanted to talk to you about that a little bit more, because I'm really interested in that topic. Do you know any good books that I could read to learn more?"


Talk about your struggles.

There's no shame in letting a professor know that you're struggling with a concept or a passage from the reading. In fact, if your questions don't get answered during class, you should follow-up during office hours. 


Conversation Starter #4

"Hi, Professor King. In class, we discussed ___, but I'm still struggling to understand ___. Do you have a few minutes to talk about that a little bit more?"


other suggestions.

  • If you're too shy to talk to a professor one-on-one, ask if you can attend office hours with a friend.

  • If you're thinking about going to grad school, lead with that and ask the professor about their experience.

  • If you're expecting to get a lot of feedback from the professor, bring a pen & paper so that you can take notes.

  • If you're scared that you're going to forget your question(s) during the conversation, write them down beforehand.


About the Author

Bennie is a third-year PhD student at Northwestern University, where he is studying African American Studies. He created Just Tryna' Graduate to help Black students get to & through graduate school. You can find him on Linkedin and Twitter.