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Asking Questions Ettiquette

  1. Jun 26, 2010 #1
    "Asking Questions" Ettiquette

    How do I go about the proper way asking my research-advisor physics-questions?

    Right now: I (1) write page and equations numbers, (2) use the book's same notation, etc. Yet: it still takes him awhile to think through my questions, and ususually the questions are a silly bit of semantics, rather than something profound. Is there some sort of question-ettiquette I'm missing? I can't really avoid having stupid questions, try as I might, so I bet those are OK (and there will eventually come a time when I ask not-stupid questions and actually contribute to our discussions). On the other hand: are there any practices I should use to make the question-asking-and-answering process any less obtrusive to my research-advisor's professorly-duties?
     
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  3. Jun 26, 2010 #2

    Andy Resnick

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    Re: "Asking Questions" Ettiquette

    I'm concerned that (1) you consider your questions "stupid", and (2) an intrusive burden on your advisor. S/he's there to help you, not to discourage you.

    But, to your question, the best way for you to ask questions that are taken seriously is to take the questions seriously yourself. That means spend to some struggling with the question, and asking your advisor to block out some time to discuss your question.

    Does that help? Can you give a "for instance"?
     
  4. Jun 26, 2010 #3
    Re: "Asking Questions" Ettiquette

    The best "for instance" I can think of: I was working out this problem with spinors and gamma-matrices that come up in Griffiths "Intro to Elementary Particles", and I got stuck on this part that turned out to require me to recognize the ij^(th) component of the product of two matrices when I saw it. I know how to multiply two matrices together, but I didn't recognize the ij^(th) product when I saw it in Griffiths's text. I felt a little silly when my advisor told me what I was missing.

    My advisor is a very quiet and brilliant man who is extremely-difficult to read. He sees almost every facial expression of yours, but doesn't say much in return...but then 5-6 days later, he'll recount the meeting he had with you in lucid detail, and remember just about everything you say. I guess I just get paranoid that I'm wasting his time, and I just bristle at this "annoyed tone" I seem to hear (which may not actually be there at all) while speaking with him. On the other hand: the man has taken me out to dinner three times and given me a bottle of wine...so he seems to regard me as a worthwhile student.

    I know it's standard for a professor to know loads more than the students (s)he teaches and the students (s)he advises...but I still get stressed when I find out my question is about something that I "should" know (like matrix multiplication). I have to "stand out" and "be indispensible" in order to make it in my field...not just suck up education like a sponge.
     
  5. Jun 28, 2010 #4
    Re: "Asking Questions" Ettiquette

    Imo, what would help you would be to take an approach that is less fixated on whether you will "stand out" or "be indispensable." Instead, you should orient toward figuring out what is relevant about the kind of work you do. If you know the purpose of what you're doing, you can more easily come up with new directions to pursue that will contribute to what is already known and increase its relevance.
     
  6. Jun 28, 2010 #5

    Andy Resnick

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    Re: "Asking Questions" Ettiquette

    I'm not really sure what to think of this. On the face of it, it's unprofessional- especially if you are an undergrad (my assumption, since you are using Griffiths).

    I echo brainstorm's advice: the buzzword is "pathway to independence". You should be striving to become an independent scientist, not someone's indispensable lab monkey.
     
  7. Jun 28, 2010 #6
    Re: "Asking Questions" Ettiquette

    There are innocent motives for taking someone out to dinner and giving gifts. Some professors feel a desire to spend some of their big salaries on promising students as a way of repaying the favors that their mentors did for them. They will often tell you that you can take them out when you have succeeded in achieving your own professorship - or that you can repay them by carrying on their legacy and mentoring students the way they mentored you.
     
  8. Jun 28, 2010 #7

    Andy Resnick

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    Re: "Asking Questions" Ettiquette

    Perhaps. But giving a bottle of wine (ESPECIALLY to someone underage) is questionable.
     
  9. Jun 28, 2010 #8
    Re: "Asking Questions" Ettiquette

    Well, for the record: I'm a 26 year old grad student (M.S. seeking). I wish I were an undergraduate though: I'd at least have a larger window of time to make the mistakes I'm making right now. Ha ha...
     
  10. Jun 28, 2010 #9
    Re: "Asking Questions" Ettiquette

    In any event: I've been able to focus more on the material and Doing The Physics instead of trying to develop some non-pertinent "thing" like indispensibility or competence....I guess those things are supposed to be "incidentals" in a stricter sense than I thought.
     
  11. Jun 28, 2010 #10
    Re: "Asking Questions" Ettiquette

    I don't know how people think they can become indispensably competent by focussing on indispensable competency. It seems to me a lot like getting an A in a class by concentrating on the letter A or making lots of money by visualizing yourself swimming in piles of money. I prefer the idea that discovering relevance leads to rewards, although it's not always the case. Sadly, I think many people DO achieve rewards by playing a system - but at least if you discover relevance and fail to achieve the rewards you have a sense that you achieved something. People who get the rewards without discovering the relevance can never truly believe in themselves.
     
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