Frosh-cessities: Office hours and the Cheesecake Factory metaphor

The Cheesecake Factory // SCC Installations

If you’ve never been to The Cheesecake Factory, it’s a massive chain restaurant with an overwhelmingly large menu and lines resembling those from Avatar’s opening weekend. The restaurant takes every generic, mass-produced dish from a variety of stereotypical chain menus and ups its quality (and price), which has resulted in The Factory’s absurd popularity across the country. A successful visit to The Factory requires going on off-hours and knowing what you’re in the mood for (so not to be intimidated by its many offerings). If one takes the right steps, the experience can be magical.  Now, it may be a stretch, but I’d say that good office hours are like The Cheesecake Factory–read why after the jump.For us freshman, office hours seem pretty generic: nearly every class has hours listed with a little note on the syllabus – ‘If you’re having any difficulties/concerns regarding course material, office hours are a place where the professor can address these issues.’  They receive little mention beyond that. The notion of office hours as a place for academic sustenance, where one can address specific needs in understanding course material, is completely legitimate. Most office hours, like most restaurants, can sustain a person; people need food to live, students need comprehension to pass. However, just as with all chain restaurants, all office hours are not created equal; there are Cheesecake Factories and then there’s McDonalds.

‘Factory’-Quality Office Hours: These are the top of the line office hours: a 30 page menu of intellectually stimulating topics just waiting to get eaten up. For starters, you must get there early if you’re going to beat the traffic. There’s nothing worse than sitting in a long line, but if you can’t get there at the start, at least bring some work to make your time in line as productive as possible; lucky you can’t spoil your mind as easily as you can spoil your appetite. Next, it’s good to know what you want to get out of the meeting. Have a few questions or topics (e.g. a remaining points from class, something of interest from the reading, unanswered questions) in mind so that you don’t waste both your and your professor’s time. Of course the conversation can branch into unexpected places, but a plan always helps to get things started. Lastly, after you’ve reaped the benefits of office hours, be grateful. Just as you wouldn’t forget to tip, a thank you is definitely in order before you exit the office–your professor did you an incredible service by bestowing his/her knowledge and wisdom upon you. This type of office hours is so great because it can address both immediate concerns and broader intellectual yearnings.

“Mc”Office Hours: For every Cheesecake Factory there are inevitably dozens of lower-quality, mass-produced restaurants, and office hours are no different. McOffice Hours will get the job done, but it won’t be a transcendent experience. The professor will answer questions, but that’s it.  Merely answering questions would render these types of office hours a dietary supplement, but McOffice Hours generally leave you feeling sort of crummy. The professor moves quickly, disregarding John Dewey’s notion of experience and education, simply presenting facts without checking for engagement and understanding. Even Burger King lets you “Have it Your Way,” but these office hours just dump answers to questions on you–no ambience and no nuances. This type of office hours may be necessary sometimes – just as you have to eat when you’re starving – but it ultimately cannot match up to its high-grade counterpart.

The good news is, the US News and World Report ranks Brown #6 for Best Undergraduate Teaching, thus you’ll most likely find “Factory”-quality office hours in your time on the hill. So here’s the bottom line: try out office hours because even if you aren’t struggling in a class it could be a positive, engaging experience that could improve your work both in the course and in other realms. And, speaking of engaging experiences, if you have not been to Cheesecake Factory, there’s one in the mall.

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