8

I am a BSc student of Mathematics in Austria. I've been studying more advanced courses on the side (diff geo) to further my knowledge. I would like to attend contact/office hours of some professors to ask them questions about math and get to know them.

Is it normal in Europe to go to office hours weekly and talk mathematics in their area of research? (of course being prepared with good questions and things I've tried to solve them)

Do professors like being visited or view it as extra work?

Is there a difference between the EU and US office-hour-culture?

I appreciate any personal experience as well.

12
  • 3
    In Person visits. I have no idea what the culture is and how one should do it, so I'm seeking for input. What I have seen, in the US it is normal to come to office hours and ask for help with HW and such. I haven't heard anything about EU. Feb 11, 2023 at 15:39
  • 10
    Your understanding of the US seems correct. If I've published office hours it implies I'm willing to meet people then, though I'd need to prioritize my own students. But others are welcome as time permits.
    – Buffy
    Feb 11, 2023 at 15:53
  • 3
    The usual way would be to talk to your professors (which teach you) and ask them to introduce you to other professors (preferably from your uni).
    – user111388
    Feb 11, 2023 at 16:19
  • 4
    Probably the most sensible way would be to communicate through email if we could meet for such and such reasons Feb 11, 2023 at 16:21
  • 40
    "Is there a difference between the EU and US office-hour-culture?" I'm wondering again and again why people keep asking about "how this works in the EU", or about the "EU culture regarding this or that topic". The EU consists of currently 27 countries, with a large number of different languages and very heterogeneous historical and cultural backgrounds. There is no reason to assume that people at universities in, say, Lisbon, Naples, Marseille, Ljubljana, Eindhoven, and Aarhus, would do things in the same or at least in a similar way. Feb 12, 2023 at 0:06

3 Answers 3

17

There are positive and negative things to say, and it will hugely depend on what courses somebody teaches, and how many students from these courses use the office hours and for what reason.

It is a pleasure to talk to curious students who have a proper interest in the field, so these are in principle always welcome. However it is in fact working time, and I can use office hour time for something else in case there is no student. As there are always too many things to do and never enough time, we won't complain for sure if nobody turns up to office hours either (I work in Italy and for the courses I'm currently teaching mostly there aren't many students who turn up, so in fact it's better if students let me know in advance that they will come because then I have it on my radar and won't forget the office hour because nobody turned up three weeks in a row).

Or on the other hand there may be so many students that more time is needed than reserved, and this is of course hard to manage as we all have lots of other stuff to do.

So by all means use the office hours, even if it's not about material specifically covered in the course taught by the same lecturer; however have a look at how much traffic there is and try to not overdo it (if every student came once a week, it would be impossible to handle unless course sizes are tiny).

1
  • 1
    Thanks for the advice! I find the last paragraph a great rule Feb 12, 2023 at 12:57
12

In the UK office hours are normally reserved for students currently enrolled at the University. Often they are restricted to students attending courses of this professor. Sometimes separate office hours are allocated for students studying at a specific course (aka module) of this professor.

Meeting general public at office hours seems a reasonable idea, but for some reason I never heard of it while in the UK.

6
  • 1
    "Often they are restricted to students attending courses of this professor." Could you elaborate a bit on how such a restriction is implemented in practice? I'm in Germany, and if a student would like to ask me something, they could for instance just knock on my door. If I'm in office and have a bit of time left, I certainly won't send them away. I'm having difficulties to imagine who could restrict this, and by which means. Feb 11, 2023 at 23:43
  • 15
    @JochenGlueck I am not sure if you would call it a restriction in Germany, but imagine a dialog: -- Hi, Prof, I've got a question on convergence of Fourier series -- Hi, Which module is it from? -- Oh, it's not from a module, just smth I am interested at. -- Oh. Do you study any module with me? -- No. -- Oh. Well, the converge of F.s. is a topic you can find in many textbooks. Now if you excuse me, I see my students also waiting with a question. Have a good day. Feb 12, 2023 at 0:15
  • 4
    @JochenGlueck US here. I have the same experience as Dmitry's answer. But rather I would say that I personally prioritize students who are in my courses over anyone else for office hours. I'd be happy to talk to someone if they stop by, but if one of my students turns up I drop that conversation immediately and switch. In fact I do this even with other faculty in the Dept. I've noticed some colleagues who've started to host "research office hours" on Zoom recently, though, as an interesting concept of an additional chunk of availability towards that purpose.
    – user137975
    Feb 12, 2023 at 0:17
  • 8
    I am sorry if my language is confusing. In my experience, in the UK many restrictions are informal and are a product of a collective agreement that is somehow maintained without a central authority. Customs and traditions, rather than laws and orders. Feb 12, 2023 at 0:40
  • 3
    @DmitrySavostyanov: "in the UK many restrictions are informal and are a product of a collective agreement that is somehow maintained without a central authority" Yes, it's the same way in Germany. I think I was simply misreading your answer. (Regarding the topic at hand, I think at least in my field - pure maths - it wouldn't be common in Germany to send away a student who has a question if they are not enrolled in one's courses. That might be a cultural difference.) Feb 12, 2023 at 0:44
8

I work in the UK but have studied in Italy.

When I was a student, I'd shoot an email and ask for an appointment to talk about XYZ. At worst, I was told that it was not possible, but it happened rarely.

Now that I'm sitting at the other side of the desk, I'd only expect students attending my courses to show up during office hours, but I'm also happy to see those who would like to talk more generally about academic topics relevant in my field (economics). Office hours do take quite a bit of my time, so I never complain if only a few students show up (or none at all). When overcrowded, I give priority to those students who informed me in advance and/or have more relevant questions about the courses I'm currently teaching.

My own strategy is to publish my office hours on the course webpage (only visible to enrolled students), setting different times and/or days for different courses (when feasible with other duties). For everyone else, I ask them to request an appointment by email. So, were you coming to see me, you'd probably fall in this last category and I'd be happy to see you as time allows.

My colleagues have similar arrangements.

I've had a few students who knocked on my door to ask "What's up with economics these days?" without showing that they did some independent Googling beforehand. While I'd politely answer, I don't find that particularly enjoyable. I'd much rather see and talk to students who show up to say "I've seen [this] and [that] are on these days, but I think [this different but related thing] is more interesting, what do you think?" or "I'm interested in [this problem] but I'm having troubles {starting, finding literature, thinking formally, understanding this paper}."

In conclusion, I'd say that office-hour culture in Europe is indeed different than the American one, although I've never experienced the latter myself and I've only heard from friends about it. But if you wrote to me with a set of clear questions in mind (they need not be formally clear, they only should be motivated by some goal), I'd be more than happy to schedule an appointment. I'd expect colleagues in any other discipline to do the same (but YMMV).

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .