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How I Write and Learn

In this blog series, “Ask a Coach!” our Writing and Learning Center coaches answer our UNC-CH undergrads’ burning questions! Check back every month to see what our coaches have to say about everything from taking breaks to utilizing office hours! 

How can I best approach office hours? What do you do the first time you meet with a professor? What kinds of questions do you prepare? 

Aiden has a headshot with the frame around them.Aiden: I love office hours! When I’m able to form more casual connections with my instructors, I feel more motivated to enjoy my classes. The first time I meet with an instructor, I might talk about what interested me in taking their course or something specific I’ve liked from class so far, like an interesting article, an engaging discussion, or a creative assignment. I bring up any questions I have about upcoming assignments, ways to participate, or anything else related to their expectations of me as a student. In my experience, instructors really value building more one-on-one relationships with students through office hours, so just know that you showing up to office hours is something positive for both you and your instructor!

Learning Coach Miranda stands with his thumbs up in a frame that says "Miranda: - Art Hist PhD Student Studies art...can't paint." The frame has a blue background with yellow and red dashesMiranda: First, if you have a TA (teaching assistant), get to know them! TA’s usually do the grading and have more face-to-face time with students. They also can give great insight into the class. But whether a TA or a professor, office hours are a great way to ask questions, get feedback, and get to know your instructor (this is helpful if you need letters of recommendations down the road). I have found showing up with  a few questions can help. This could be about a specific reading, an idea you found exciting, or talking through a prompt for a paper. Remember, you are a student, which means you do not have to know everything. Asking questions is about aiding your growth as a student. I also think it is helpful to meet in the first few weeks to introduce yourself and share your interests in the course. This can make it much less stressful later on when you might have some more significant questions or are in need of more guidance in the class. Finally, I have also found meeting during office hours a great way to stay accountable. I will email my advisors  to set up a meeting saying I have finished a rough draft and talk through the thesis. Whether or not I have the draft, it gives me a reason to work ahead. 

Learning Coach Yi-Hsuan stands with his thumbs up in a frame that says "Yi-Hsuan - Political Science PhD Student I LOVE Fries (even cold) " The frame has a blue background with yellow and red dashesYi-Hsuan: First, office hours are more helpful than students usually think. Instructors are usually more willing to give accommodations when they have a chance to know that you care about the class, and to know your struggles. While going to office hours is an easy way to earn impression points, you also don’t want to give a bad impression and make it counterproductive. The tip is (while you need not be super profound): be targeted (have a clear purpose) and be prepared (and do your job). Professors and TAs would expect students to come to office hours to have their questions ready, and it is best that you don’t ask something that can be figured out by checking the syllabus, ie. when is the deadline for the first paper? If you are just there to build a connection, introduce yourself, say why you’re interested in this class/what you want to get out of it; and you can ask simple questions about how to prepare for the class (ie. what is the best way to approach readings?) Office hours are also a great time to clarify expectations (ie. what does the paper expect me to demonstrate? How detailed am I expected to know about the readings? Do I need to memorize the dates and names, or just the implications of big events?) What you must avoid is being obviously unprepared, for example, coming to the office hour to discuss the feedback on your paper without carefully reading it beforehand. It is perfectly fine to ask questions if you don’t understand the feedback, but you should definitely read it and think about it before you knock on the door. 

This blog showcases the perspectives of UNC Chapel Hill community members learning and writing online. If you want to talk to a Writing and Learning Center coach about implementing strategies described in the blog, make an appointment with a writing coach, a peer tutor, or an academic coach today. Have an idea for a blog post about how you are learning and writing remotely? Contact us here.

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