I am taking an advance course in Computer Science so the class size is pretty limited (8 to be exact). The faculty is very senior and well respected in the field. For past few lectures, I have been asking questions that make the faculty a little uncomfortable which I can guess from the way the answers are given (I am also on a psychology class :-) )

For example, to understand a concept, I say "why X has been used ?". He tries his best to answer "because of A,B,C reasons". During this explanation, occasionally I can sense high level of uncomfort in him and the answers are ambiguous. So, now I have doubt that "if X, then why A ? " and so on. Should one continue with these kind of questions when you know that the faculty won't be able to answer the questions perfectly or isn't comfortable enough to satisfy your inquisitiveness. I do not doubt his competence at all and respect him very much. But how does a faculty feel in this kind of continuous poking (if it is so) or should one resort to personal interaction so that he may feel more comfortable ?

Does that hold negatively for the student that student is trying to humiliate the faculty ?

Note: Questions are not non-sense but are somewhat basic and supported by logic.

  • 26
    If I were the faculty, and was unsure of the answer, I'd say so, and then figure out the answer offline and email you (or announce it in class). I've done this numerous times. Maybe you're reading too much into the lecturer response.
    – Suresh
    Sep 17, 2013 at 18:46
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    Why not have a private chat with the professor in question, and ask him how he feels about it? Sometimes people like questions, sometimes they don't. If he seems uncomfortable, perhaps it is not for the reason you think. Maybe he is concerned about getting through his syllabus in time, for example. It is easier to ask rather than guessing. +1 for your concern; it is always good to be concerned about people's feelings. Sep 17, 2013 at 19:12
  • 4
    "Does that hold negatively for the student that student is trying to humiliate the faculty ?" - well ... are you trying to humiliate the faculty? Oct 25, 2014 at 8:38
  • I am not sure how correct your assessment of the situation. Question can be distracting, professor can be annoyed for "you still not get it" or just feel some details unimportant while you keep asking questions about those details. There are many reason why someone is ambiguous or uncomfortable. Note it is nothing to do with if you done anything wrong.
    – Greg
    Mar 26, 2017 at 8:22
  • At a slightly higher level, but this may be relevant academia.stackexchange.com/questions/172829/… Nov 3, 2021 at 12:28

3 Answers 3


Generally, there is nothing wrong with asking questions. But, asking the same one may be perceived as badgering the professor.

Perhaps a course of action would be to:

  • As Faheem suggests, talk privately to the professor, not only about how they feel about the questioning, but the question itself.

  • Offer to perform some research on finding an answer - this could be an opportunity for you to potentially perform new research that could answer the question.

  • 3
    +1 For this could be an opportunity for you to potentially perform new research.
    – Nobody
    Sep 18, 2013 at 3:21

You're studying psychology. That doesn't make you telepathic.

There's a wide variety of possible reasons for what's going on:

  • you are mistaken, your lecturer is not uncomfortable. Crazy, I know, but you just might be wrong.
  • your lecturer has indigestion, or piles, or tight shoes
  • your questions indicate you're missing basic knowledge
  • the questions take the group away from the core material that the lecturer has to get through, and answering them will slow the teaching down
  • your lecturer doesn't know the answer, and can't bring themselves to say as much, and doesn't have the nous to turn it around and ask you or the rest of the class to find the answer. That's quite a failing in an academic, to be unable to say "I don't know".

Note that repeatedly asking "why A?" "So why B?" "So why C? ..." is something that toddlers do, it's often just time-wasting and attention-seeking and is likely to annoy a lot of people; even if those aren't your motives, be aware that it could come across as that. So instead of just asking questions, look for some answers yourself. You are doing a higher degree, after all, so you should be looking for answers yourself, as well as seeking help from staff and other students.

  • A healthy amount of "why __?" is perfectly reasonable in any academic setting, and not just something that toddlers do. As long as it's limited and not excessively wasting class time, "why?" questions are very useful.
    – Trevor Jex
    Oct 25, 2018 at 18:23
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    +1 for "You're studying psychology. That doesn't make you telepathic." Nov 3, 2021 at 12:27

Yes you should keep asking questions. The main goal is learning and it is good you are curious. There is no way to tell ahead of time what will or will not make a teacher uncomfortable. (Anyhow, is a teacher's discomfort your responsibility?) Should you be disruptive, interrupt and ask picky detailed questions repeatedly that require long answers and are possibly going off topic? No, because that isn't fair to the other students class time. Also providing students with answers can be like giving fish away instead of teaching them to fish.

There are a lot of different ways to solve computer programming problems - it may your questions can be answered by a number of ways or don't have simple answers and require deep thought. It could also be the professor doesn't know or can't explain the answer well. Personally, I have no problem saying to a student, "I don't know, why don't you look it up and share the answer with us."

If you are studying psychology then you are perhaps familiar with cognitive load. It might be difficult for the teacher to stay on topic, stay focused on his/her learning objectives and answer questions mid-lecture. I would suggest asking your questions at the end of the lecture.

  • Asking questions is not a great way of learning unless you also do a lot of finding out answers - ideally you should only ask questions to get you started and when you get stuck. "Anyhow, is a teacher's discomfort your responsibility?" yes - the Golden rule suggests that we should treat others the way we would want to be treated in their position. The teacher is a human being, not a question answering machine. Nov 3, 2021 at 12:31

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