Dismiss Notice
Join Physics Forums Today!
The friendliest, high quality science and math community on the planet! Everyone who loves science is here!

How to interact with lecturers non-awkwardly?

  1. Mar 21, 2017 #1
    I am an undergrad student, I often greet my lecturers, but afterwards comes a long period of awkward silence.
    Also, when I ask my lecturer questions during office hours, I cant help my self but to bombard them question after questions, and they seems to be fed up with me...
    So how can I be less awkward in general?
  2. jcsd
  3. Mar 21, 2017 #2


    Staff: Mentor

    Choose your questions wisely. Research your questions and try to find the answers yourself and when you are stuck then ask very specific and pointed questions.

    Sometimes we get folks here who post a program and say its not working and we have to ask whats not working and after many posts we might discover the reason and its something they could have discovered if they took the time to look. Perhaps your questions are like that. They require a book to answer or they are so mired in misconceptions that its very difficult to unravel and answer or it may simply be beyond the persons ability to answer.

    Then again you might be asking without listening to the answer and that may show up based on your next question. ANyway, here's a humorous Jack-In-The-Box commercial about it:

    Many years ago, I had a Chinese martial arts teacher who would get bothered by the questions I asked. He was polite but I could tell something was amiss. It was perhaps a cultural difference since Americans question whereas as traditional Chinese teachers want you to focus on what you're learning and not ask until you've exhausted every other means.

    "I hear, and I forget. I see, and I remember. I do, and I understand.".
    Wǒ tīng dào, wǒ wàngle, wǒ kàn dào, wǒ jìde, wǒ hé wǒ zhīdào
    -- attributed to Confucious

    ( I hope google translate got it right, it sounds right but you never quite know)
    Last edited: Mar 21, 2017
  4. Mar 21, 2017 #3
    I thank you Jedi master for your kind advice, from now on I shall learn to restrain the force, and not to fall to the darkside.
  5. Mar 21, 2017 #4


    User Avatar
    Science Advisor
    Education Advisor

    A lot can depend on the specific context with any social interaction...

    If you're greeting a professor coming into a class, remember that he or she probably has stuff to do: getting the projector fired up, slides loaded up, notes ready, etc. and so this may not be the best moment to make small talk. That doesn't mean that you shouldn't ever try - just try to read the situation and be respectful of what the other person needs to get done.

    As brought up above, there can be cultural contexts at play as well. Some professors (even those who grew up in various parts of North America) will have come through more hierarchical systems than you might be used to - professors teach, students listen. That's not to say this is how it should be or that students should not ask questions. They should. But some professors will react in different ways to this. In addition, some professors may be adverse to socializing or being perceived as socializing with students - as it may look like they are showing some kind of favouritism.

    With respect to bombarding professors with questions here are a few tips.
    1. Have you thought the question through yourself? Is the answer likely to be found in the lecture notes, textbook or through reading online?
    2. Have you thought about what you're asking? Are you trying to tackle a specific concept? Or could you be perceived as someone just trying to get the homework answers.
    3. Are you dominating the professor's time during office hours? Are other students who may not be as assertive getting opportunities to ask questions? Are you listening to the answers when they ask?
    4. Have you asked a similar question before?
    5. This may come as a surprise, but professors don't always know the answers either - at least not right away. Sometimes they will get frustrated because they end up working through a problem that it seems the student could just as easily get through.
  6. Mar 21, 2017 #5
    Thank you, for your advice. I normally only greets professors in random encounters, such as in elevators, in the corridors. The questions I was asking were not related to lectures, however they are physics based questions. I guess next time I will only ask if I really cant figure or research something out.
  7. Mar 22, 2017 #6


    User Avatar

    Staff: Mentor

    Walk away. Seriously, all that is required when you bump into someone or walk past them in the hall is a grunted "hi".

    In elevators, though, just accept the awkward silence: they are designed for it.
Share this great discussion with others via Reddit, Google+, Twitter, or Facebook

Have something to add?
Draft saved Draft deleted