In my very first post, I gave a pep talk for when you’re on your way to office hours. Did you read it? Did you go? Are you and your profs best friends now? Do you give each other wardrobe advice and go ice-skating? Well, that’s wonderful!
Just in case you wanted some more concrete advice, however, I have been compiling a list of potential icebreakers that will start you off on the right foot with your winter term profs. What better time could there be to share this list than right now, when you have to break literal ice on your trek to your prof’s office and break figurative ice upon arrival?
The way I see it, there are five main icebreaker categories:
“Do you mind which edition of [insert text here] I use?”
“Are there any additional resources you could recommend that might enrich my learning?”
These questions are great if you’re really nervous and you feel like you need a formal jumping off point. However, make sure that the question you plan to ask has not been answered on Portal, in the syllabus, in lecture, or through some other means. It must be exhausting to have to answer the same questions over and over again and you want to make an impression as studious and organized.
“Hello, my name is ___________ and I’m interested in/I study/I work in X, Y, and Z.”
“I took [insert prerequisite/related course here] and I really enjoyed X, Y, and Z. Here are some ways in which what I learned in that course relate/can help me in this course: …”
“I am interested in this field because of X, Y, and Z.”
“In the future, I hope to do X, Y, or Z.”
These types of openers can be great to lead off a conversation in office hours. As intimidating as it may seem, office hours need not be anything more than an informal chat. Professors have a vested interest in you and your academic future because their job is to help shape it. Let them know what you’re up to; who knows what reassurance or advice you may receive in return? At the very least, introducing yourself and what you’re all about will help your prof to put a face to a name and a name to a person.
“What sorts of things should I pay special attention to as I read?”
“I have noticed that [insert theme here] keeps cropping up in readings. I think it’s significant because X, Y, and Z. What do you think?”
“I’m having trouble understanding [Concept X], can you help me?”
Asking for clarification or sharing your own insights is great because it allows you to enrich your knowledge and test your own ideas out on an expert in the field. Even if you make mistakes, your prof will help guide you. As long as you’re trying, there is no shame. Remember that you have unique insights and perspectives that are worth sharing. Who knows? Perhaps both of you will learn something new once you start bouncing ideas off of each other and picking each others’ brains.
“What do you think is the most critical element to a good paper?”
“What piece of advice do you wish someone had shared with you when you were an undergrad student?”
Every professor has tips and tricks that they have picked up throughout their own academic journeys. When they share these tricks with you, you’ll get a better idea of how to succeed in their class specifically, and you might also gain a new tool for your own academic toolbox.
“What drew you to this field?”
“What other projects are you working on?
“Is there any way that I could get involved?”
Trust me, UofT profs do some really amazing things! It can’t do any harm to ask them about what they devote their time to. You’ll learn more about the field you’re studying and perhaps even hone in on what you might like to pursue going forward. If your professor is working on things that interest you, forging a connection with him or her could lead to some wonderful opportunities.