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It feels like students have stopped coming to my office hours. Or at least, the number of office hour appointments on my calendar has slowed to a trickle.

What might explain the underutilization of office hours? I chalk it up to multiple factors. It could be that the articulated benefits of meeting with professors outside of the classroom are not landing as intended.1 Perhaps it is a generational thing; when I attempted to describe the concept of office hour meetings to my adolescent daughter, she was visibly appalled at the idea of conversing with a teacher, one on one, outside of the classroom.

On my worst days, I let my insecurities creep in as an attribution: “Maybe it’s something about me.” My cynical self might complain about the utility of office hours. Why should I continue to offer—really, beg—students to meet with me multiple times in the quarter when clearly the average student does not wish to take me up on the offer? If I am honest with myself and before God, underlying this rhetorical question of practicality is a hurt pride—a self-serving attitude that says that I do not wish to keep offering up my time if the other person does not receive it.

My ruminations about office hours have led me to, at times, feel discouraged and downtrodden in my vocational calling as a professor. Especially in Christian higher education that holds in high regard the opportunities for meaningful faculty-student interactions, the decreasing number of office hour connections with students even triggers some doubts about whether I am flourishing as a Christian scholar and mentor.

Fellow academics, have you felt similarly? It’s probably not just the traditional office hours where you have seen these trends. Maybe you sacrificed precious family time to do a review session for an upcoming exam with your students, and two students showed up. Or that time you offered a drop-in advising session might come to mind, when only one advisee attended. Whatever it might be, students not showing up to spaces that we provide for them can be discouraging.

If you can relate, even a little bit, to this post, I wish to provide a perspective that has helped me push back against the discouragement. To do this, I briefly describe one type of social support: implicit support.

Heejung Kim, David Sherman, and Shelley Taylor2 provide a fascinating overview of implicit support drawing from theoretical and empirical arguments, and I encourage interested readers to check it out. According to Kim and colleagues, if a person benefits from implicit support, they are finding solace in simply knowing that a certain support exists, without having to intentionally turn to that source. Implicit support is in contrast to explicit support that many of us might be more familiar with, which involves the deliberate pursuit of support, such as asking for help when needed, or seeking out a venting session with a friend.

Implicit support is the idea that just being cognizant of my friend’s existence calms me down, without needing to discuss how stressed I am.

I think there is a lesson to be learned from this posture of conceptualizing social support and its effectiveness. In the U.S., we are often inclined to think that social support must be delivered precisely and accurately so that the type of support matches the need.3 And rightly so. In the higher education setting, for example, it’d be ineffective to involve the financial aid office on campus as a form of support for a student in need of tutoring in their Introduction to Psychology course.

Moreover, even from the support seeker’s perspective, we value explicit support seeking. It’s a “ask and it will be given to you” (Matthew 7:7) mindset. That is, we encourage our students to be precise and proactive when seeking help. And it’s not just students. “Advocate for yourself,” we instruct our children. “Don’t assume that your partner knows what you need,” we counsel couples in marital counseling.

Based on this logic of explicit support, it makes sense that we view our students’ utilization of office hours in a favorable light and something to be pursued as a good outcome—they are being proactive in seeking the assistance that they need from us. On the flip side, the disconnect from office hours is understood as not receiving a beneficial aspect of their education.

But there is also value in connecting implicit support with office hours. Even though students might be utilizing my office hours sparingly, I wonder if students still gain from the reminder of the existence of my office hours. That is, knowing that they can turn to me for support, even if they end up not doing so, can also benefit the student. Indeed, some of my students will go for the entire 10-week quarter without conversing with me outside of the classroom even once. But that reality does not rule out the possibility of implicit support, even if in a small way, impacting the student for the better.

If I may extend the notion of implicit support a bit, it is a good reminder of the value of “showing up,” irrespective of the outcome. Faithful presence might be another phrase to describe it. That is, office hours are valuable not only because of those explicit moments of verbal connections with students but also because they reinforce the necessity of showing up in my vocation; implicit support is valuable because it is just—there. When I hold an advising session and invite students to come, and only one student attends, am I able to honor the one person in front of me as an image bearer of God and faithfully serve the student, just like I would if ten students had shown up? I must confess that this is difficult for me, given my sinful nature to be overly driven by numbers and related “good” outcomes. Or for that matter, if I have zero students show up, how do I make sense of the null experience in light of my vocational calling? Have I failed? Have I wasted time? Or am I able to reframe such experiences as a critical component of my Christian calling to just show up consistently in the lives of my students?

Here is yet another extended, indirect implication of implicit support in thinking about office hours and similar tasks that comprise my vocational life. Implicit support suggests that there are times when the duty and obligation of consistent presence, or even just telling students that you will show up, should not be dismissed as less vocationally fulfilling in comparison to engaging in the “more enjoyable” side of our work such as being able to chat with students (i.e., provide explicit support) during office hours. Indeed, an important lesson of implicit support from the perspective of its giver is that the seemingly small posture of a faithful presence can have consequences beyond the immediately observable.

So, what do all these reflections mean practically? I will keep announcing my office hours incessantly (or, perhaps, annoyingly?) to students. If they take me up on my offer, great, I can do my part in providing explicit support. Additionally, I will brainstorm and consult with wise colleagues about how to encourage students to set up meetings with me outside of the classroom. I might even explore creative solutions to connecting with students one one-on-one, such as going to class early to chat with students who are also early, “bribing” students with some delicious Korean snacks and tea in my office, and so on.

But simultaneously, I will remind myself of the truth that not all is lost if students do not actively seek out office hour conversations. I will find comfort in the possibility that for some students, their awareness of office hours as a resource can be sufficient for their well-being. And I will pray that God will humble my heart and mind to see the importance of faithful showing up more clearly each day, even if the calendar slots are empty, even if no one shows up to a review session.


  1. Margaret Smith, Yujie Chen, Rachel Berndtson, Kristen Burson, and Whitney Griffin, “‘Office Hours Are Kind of Weird’: Reclaiming a Resource to Foster Student-Faculty Interaction,” Insight: A Journal of Scholarly Teaching 12, (2017): 14–29.
  2. For more on implicit support, see Heejung S. Kim, David K. Sherman, and Shelley E. Taylor, “Culture and Social Support,” American Psychologist 63, no. 6 (2008): 518–526.
  3. Carolyn E. Cutrona, “Stress and Social Support – In Search of Optimal Matching,” Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology 9, no. 1 (1990): 3–14.

Paul Y. Kim

Seattle Pacific University
Paul Youngbin Kim is Professor of Psychology in the School of Psychology, Family, and Community at Seattle Pacific University


  • Introduction to Chapter 4 of my dissertation…

    Developing an Ethos of “Extravagant” and “Intentional” Hospitality (58)
    “Be hospitable to one another without complaint.” -1 Peter 4:9

    In this chapter, I will discuss the importance of exhibiting an ethos of “extravagant and intentional” hospitality as the means to deepen relationships with my students. The ideas in this chapter took root several years ago when a group of students showed up at my office door for help with chemistry homework. We spent several hours together solving problems on a large whiteboard on the wall behind my desk. I thought it would be a good idea to put together a tray of snacks for them for supplemental brain sugar. Word quickly got out and more students began showing up for “homework help.” On several occasions I had as many as seven students, crammed around my desk, sitting on the floor or just outside the door, craning their necks to follow along. My office has now become a place for more than just chemistry tutoring. It has been dubbed the “chill zone.” It is the place where students can grab a snack, a free book, a cup of coffee, engage in casual conversation, ask me for life hacks, or drop in for prayer. Sometimes they come just to pray for me. Accidentally, and then intentionally, I have sought to make my office a place of hospitality.

    (58) Patrick Miller and Kyle Richter, “How to Feed Gen Z’s Hunger for Jesus,” The Gospel Coalition, November 4, 2023.

  • Ruby Dunlap says:

    Thank you, Paul Kim, for your thoughtful remarks. I’ve taught Population Health Nursing at Belmont University for 26 years now. The last few years, I’ve taught it as a Universal Design for Learning (UDL) course, allowing students to choose whether they come to class, take it online, do the assignments individually or in a group of their choice. Learning outcomes are measured by nationally normed testing and these outcomes have stayed strong, with means above national averages for the same subject matter.
    What I’ve learned is that the student of the 2020s wants access to the instructor in a variety of ways. So I don’t keep regular office offices but I do share my mobile phone number with students and encourage them to contact me any way they wish. Students choose texting (most often), phoning, Zoom meetings, emailing, or, rarely, on campus, face to face meetings. I tell them I’m happy to connect with them any way that works for them. This kind of “implicit support,” (love the term!) has been working well for me for several years now.

  • Jenell Paris says:

    What you’ve written is so kind and generous toward both students and professors. It encourages me to keep taking my own office hours seriously (actually being in my office at that time), and reminding students of the availability and importance of office hours. I agree that it is implicit support (a concept I hadn’t heard of before reading your post), and that matters. On the other hand, there is the character-building benefit of in-person communication, especially over conflict or high emotion. The democracy-building benefits of dialogue. The joy of pondering a complex idea with another person. The wonder and awe at the world God created, and the reality of God, that grows and expands when shared with another person. I want more of all of that. Perhaps it is even an act of faith on the part of professors to keep our hearts open to the value and the possibility of conversation.

    • Paul Y. Kim says:

      Thank you for reading and posting, Jenell. Yes, I wholeheartedly agree with you about the enjoyable dialogues that are possible with students about God’s world and his people… I too wish for more of those connections with students.

  • Mark Witwer says:

    This is very interesting and helpful, Paul.
    As an adjunct teaching an online seminary course about Christian teaching and learning, I encounter something similar to your experience with under-utilized office hours. In my case, it is under-utilization of my easy accessibility via email, despite my encouragement to students to contact me if I can help them. Of course, these adult learners are generally working full-time and often raising families, so I can understand time pressures being a factor. Still, I had not considered how relevant a concept like implicit support could be to this situation.
    It is easy enough for me to continue reminding students that I am there for them when they need it, and I see now that it is a way of serving them regardless of their response.
    Thank you for taking the time to create this post!

    • Paul Y. Kim says:

      This is a good reminder of the need to take into account the student demographics when it comes to assessing reasons for underutilization… thank you Mark!

  • John Williams says:

    Another form of implicit support is getting to know and see students outside of class. Noticing a student or group of students in the library or snack bar and stopping to chat with them, keeping up with activities on campus and perhaps attending ones your students are involved in, or asking about them are positive relationship builders and likely to help students feel more comfortable in coming to you when needed.

  • Paul Y. Kim says:

    Yes, thanks for this important reminder to take that extra step to connect with students outside of the office…

  • Maureen Perianayagam says:

    Hi Paul,
    I appreciate your genuineness and humbleness. You asked an important question, I quote ‘am I able to honor the one person in front of me as an image bearer of God and faithfully serve the student?’. It is a thought-provoking question, and I thank you. I believe that at times, our human nature becomes the barrier for our Christ loving service. As followers of Christ Jesus, we ought to see Christ in everyone including in our students. Whether there is only one student or more, we are called to serve them faithfully with God’s grace. As long as I serve one student with my whole heart and faithful to God in my words and actions, I consider myself worthy enough for God’s mercy and love.
    Further to your notion of implicit and explicit, I believe that as a professor, it is vital to be open to students’ concerns, questions, and feedback in class. Such genuine openness would help to build a trusting relationship with students. We must maintain professional boundaries at all times. Once the trusting relationship and the professional boundaries are established, then there is room for off class discussions [implicit and explicit support] as office hours. As far as I understand, the office hours are created for students who need extra help with their learning. When we come in contact with students in class on a regular basis, we could easily identify the students who may need some extra help for learning and understanding. I did not see any wrongdoing by inviting these students to book the appointments for office hours. Your direct invitation to the student (s) would reflect your genuineness and humbleness.

    Maureen Perianayagam.