Week Three of SSC Academics

Asking Questions 101

Dear Marauder,

I remember how worried I was before I had even walked into lecture. I thought my professor would have no interest in anything I had to say and I was confident that asking a question would be perceived as disrespectful and disruptive. This meant that I often sat in silence and focused more on what I wanted to ask than on what the professor was saying at the time. I know that it can be intimidating to speak to your professor in front of your peers, so we have a few solutions for you.

We asked our global voices what the hardest thing about communicating with their instructors was and what makes asking questions and going to professor’s office hours easier–this is what they said:

Photo of a student.

Jayda Hunte (St. Lucia), Engineering

In my experience, all my professors in first year were very approachable and willing to help with anything you needed, whether be it academic or just someone to talk to. I would say that you should never be afraid to ask your professor questions during classes, because although sometimes you may think your question is a dumb one, many times many other of your class mates have the very same question but are too shy to ask. In terms of office hours, I found them very helpful, and getting to know your prof one on one can only be to your benefit.

Photo of a student.

Gustavo Chen (Brazil), Engineering

Definitely asking questions during lectures. Depending on the class, you can be afraid to ask or answer something in front of everyone. If that’s the case, don’t be shy to go to office hours!

Photo of a student.

Katherine Grace (Indonesia), Engineering

We usually don’t know how to construct our questions in a good sentence structure in a short time and profs might misunderstand our questions if we do not ask them clearly. I would keep my question in mind and ask to the prof after class or go to the prof’s/TA’s office hours. Having more 1 to 1 time with them makes us think better and we are not stressed under time and social pressures.

Here are some tips to make talking to your professors easier:

  1. Write your question on a post-it note and bring it to your professor at the end of class. This way, the question won’t continue to weigh on your mind throughout lecture. You won’t have to carry your open books with you to the front of the room, and you will be able to quickly pose your question without feeling like you’re interrupting.
  2. Remember that you would not judge another student for asking a question. You are all in class to learn, and this often involves inquiry, discussion, and repetition/clarification.
  3. For simple inquiries, you may be able to reach out to your professor via email. Remember to use your McMaster Gmail!
  4. Visit your professor’s office hours! I cannot count the number of times professors have lamented that no one comes to their office hours. Remember that they have invested a lot of their time and energy into studying what they teach you. They have a lot to say about this content and are usually very willing to discuss it with you, especially if you are thinking about it enough to be asking questions. Beyond answering your original question, your professors can provide you with resources, support, and recommendations—there is a lot to be gained from professional relationships, even though they can seem intimidating at first.

I hope this week’s posts paint a clearer picture of what learning in lecture can look like. Before I got to university, lectures were one of the things that intimidated (and excited) me the most. I fixated on large class sizes as being a negative thing, and assumed that lectures would never be anything but stressful. Ultimately, I underestimated myself. When I let myself relax a little bit and approached lectures as opportunities to grow personally and academically, I found them to be both productive and enjoyable. I still believe that there are a number of ways to learn outside of lectures, but they are undoubtedly an important piece of the puzzle. Being aware of how to prepare, take notes, and combat distractions should lessen the fear that can surround lectures.





Is there something about talking to your professors that is still off-putting? Is there something that would make it any easier?



How do I prepare for lecture? How can I stay organised? Do I really need to do anything before I show up? Lecture Preparation 101 has the answers for you!

What makes note-taking difficult? What is my brain trying to do when I take notes? How can I get the most out of what my instructors say? Read Note-Taking 101 to find out!

What is going to distract me during lecture? Do my peers also get distracted? Is there anything that I can do to keep focused? Distraction 101 has the answers to these questions!

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