That college professors are scary or intimidating is something I hear all too often from my students when I ask them why they don’t go to office hours. And truth be told, I found them pretty scary myself, especially as a freshman. After all, they typically hold advanced degrees, such as PhDs, are highly knowledgeable in their field, can have high expectations, throw around big fancy words and last but not least, hold your grade in the palm of their hand. In addition, most of them are quite a bit older which just adds to the intimidation factor that often accompanies authority figures.
But regardless of how much you may try, you can’t avoid your professors forever and nor should you want to. For some great reasons on why talking to your professors should always be on your to-do list, check out my post on the 3 big reasons here! But for now, let’s jump into ways to combat professor-phobia.
1) Turn Office Hours into Student Hours
Most professors will frequently encourage you to come to office hours. They are usually announced at the start of the semester and are listed on the course syllabus. But what exactly are they? Office hours are times your instructor has set aside to speak with students on a walk-in, no appointment needed, basis. To make them less intimidating, think of them as student hours. They are for you, the student, to come talk about any concerns or questions you may have. Additionally, maybe you’re really digging the class and did some outside of class research you want to share with your professor – student hours are great for that too. As soon as you look at office hours as student hours and treat them as your time with the instructor, as opposed to the professor’s time with you, they are a lot less intimidating. You have the control here because, during those hours, you can come in at any point and ask any questions on a one-on-one basis.
2) They’re just people
I know this one’s obvious but sometimes, when you’re used to seeing a professor only in the context of a huge lecture hall, they can seem almost like they’re not real people. You’ll know what I mean if you’ve ever run into one at the grocery store and have the odd sense of just having seen a ghost. But, at the end of the day, they are just people who were once students. They once goofed off in class, or flunked a test or got caught smoking in their dorm room. As soon as you recognize their innate normal peopleness, someone who probably has a family (or better yet, a bunch of dogs) that they go home to, they seem a lot less scary. Some of them will even share some of their personal lives with you to demonstrate that they too have a life outside of the lecture hall. My intro psych professor during my freshman year, for example, frequently used his children as examples when talking about new concepts. Sometimes the stories were weird but they helped us stay engaged and remember the content.
3) Pay attention
Pay attention and engage during class, especially for the class you struggle in the most. Professors get frustrated when students don’t pay attention or completely disengage during class. They spend a lot of time on their lesson plans, so to have over half the class staring at their cellphone during lecture can be disappointing to say the least. So imagine then if you, someone who is one of the people constantly on their phones, comes to office hours asking a bunch of questions that the instructor addressed in class. Yea, I’d have an attitude with you too! But if you pay attention, ask questions during class and then go to office hours to get clarification on some things, they’ll be much more receptive.
4) Sometimes there’s nothing you can do
That is to say, sometimes there are instructors who are just not approachable. No matter how many good comments you make in class or how good your test scores are – some instructors you won’t get along with. And that is okay. This isn’t Pokemon where you gotta catch em all! But what you don’t want to have happen is that one negative interaction turns you off from ever speaking to any instructors again. You will have negative interactions with people, including professors, and that’s just part of life. But don’t let that cloud your whole view of all instructors to ever exist. Most of them are approachable, care about their students’ success and want to help you if you’ve hit a roadblock.
There you have it – 4 easy peasy ways to help turn Professor Snapes into Professor Lupins (please tell me you get the Harry Potter reference here). Have you encountered any scary professors during your freshmen year? How did you cope? Did they end up being as intimidating as they appeared? Share your thoughts in the comments below.