If the thought has crossed your might that you should seek out advice from a faculty member (professor, instructor, TA), then you should probably do so. Talking to students outside of class is part of a faculty member’s job, and faculty know a lot of things. Here are some suggestions for how to make it happen.
Go to their office hours
Faculty are required to hold a certain number of office hours for every class they teach: time when they are available for students to drop by. You don’t generally need an appointment. Office hours exist entirely so that professors can have conversations with students, and few students take advantage of them. So really — just go.
Office hours > email
Most professors get a lot of email, and answering it takes time away from the things they’d rather be doing (teaching, research, preparing classes). Talking to interested students is (for many) NOT a tedious chore, and they hold office hours to have those conversations. You are more likely to establish a friendly connection if you can make contact by coming directly to office hours rather than adding to their email mountain. That said, some professors hold office hours by appointment only. If you encounter such a professor then go ahead and email them to set up an appointment.
Not sure when office hours are?
If it’s a professor for a class you’re currently taking, office hours are probably mentioned in the syllabus. If you look hard and can’t find this information, ask at the next class meeting.
If it’s a professor who isn’t teaching a class you’re currently taking, there are several ways to find out when their office hours are.
- Walk by their office door. Office hours are often posted there. (if you don’t know where their office is, look them up in the U of I directory)
- If you can’t find office hour information on their office door, then go to the main office for the department they’re in, and ask the clerical staff there. (If you don’t know where the department office is, use the search function on the U of I website — the office location will usually be at the bottom of the webpage for the department)
- (last resort) Use Course Explorer to find out when they’re teaching, and lie in wait in the hallway when the class gets out — then ask (politely) when they hold office hours. Be prepared to explain your business (briefly) and set up an appointment on the spot if for whatever reason they’d prefer to set up a time to talk outside their office hours.
- If none of these strategies work or if the professor tells you to email them to set up an appointment, then email is the way to go.
Not sure how to start a conversation in office hours?
Use the library website to look up research the professor has published (just type their name into the “easy search”). Spending some time with that material should give you a question or two to ask to break the ice. It probably will be easier than you think, though — many college instructors are nice people who enjoy getting to know their students.