I am in a master's program, and one of my peers in the program is in two classes with me. He is a nice person, but he tends to ask a lot of questions in lectures; both of which are very large, and often ends up derailing the lecture for 25-30 minutes.

It has (long since) gotten to the point where many people are bothered by it. He will ask a question if he is hazy on any details, and often doesn't allow us to cover all of the material in a lecture because of it. In addition, the professor is typically forced to just repeat him/herself, so we don't even learn anything new from his questions. Of course, we are still responsible for that material regardless of whether it is covered lecture. The professors appear to be bothered by his behavior, though I wouldn't presume to know for sure.

Can and should I say something to this person? I don't want to discourage him from asking questions or feel disliked by his peers in the program, but it seems unreasonable to allow him to negatively affect my and other students' learning experience (and to a rather severe degree).

Note that I am aware of this post detailing how to handle disruptive questions, but I think my question is different because it concerns how to handle it from the perspective of a fellow student rather than a professor.

  • 2
    How about a polite email to the professor pointing out that you and other students are bothered by this?
    – Corvus
    Commented Oct 25, 2015 at 0:53
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    When I was a student, after the umpteenth question, some other student would have yelled at him: "Aaargh! Shut up, you're annoying everybody!" (with added swearing); the class would have applauded, and the student would have probably stopped asking questions for a long while. But, alas, nowadays, things goes smoother... (and in any case the professor would have cut him out at the third question...) Commented Oct 25, 2015 at 8:06
  • 4
    To me this suggests that the professors aren't very good at judging how derailing a question is going to be. In my opinion the professors should listen to the student's question and if they think the answer is going to be long they should ask any interested students to stay behind after the lecture to hear the answer.
    – Pharap
    Commented Oct 25, 2015 at 11:13
  • 5
    Office hours should be used to ask those questions...
    – Bakuriu
    Commented Oct 25, 2015 at 12:48
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    I would suggest a polite email to the professor to the effect that a sizeable body of students feels that allowing too many questions that are too lengthy is eating into valuable lecture time. Suggest (nothing more forceful than that) that Q&A be held either at the end of the lecture or at predetermined intervals, and that all time be limited. Also suggest that different people be allowed concise questions and that no one student should be allowed to monopolise Q&A. Remember, don't personalise the issue and don't "name names", it's of little benefit to you and may just make you look bad.
    – Deepak
    Commented Oct 25, 2015 at 16:10

2 Answers 2


Unless this student is a close friend of yours, I think you should bring it up with the course instructors, not directly with him. The person who is in charge of making sure the course is operating smoothly and well is the instructor. In a class with more than a few students, spending 25-30 minutes responding solely to one student sounds like a clear mistake to me. (The fact that this is happening in multiple classes and none of the instructors have done anything about it is curious to me, but I don't really know what to make of it.)

I would make an appointment to speak to each instructor in question about it. I would come to that appointment with specific information about other students who feel the same way. If we are talking about a few students, then probably you should come to the office together. I am a university professor, and if several students came jointly to my office to express concern about the way my class was run, I would have to take that very seriously.

If the number of students who are concerned about this is more than could comfortably fit in your instructor's office, then I think you should make a list of such students in some way, e.g. by writing up a brief, politely worded statement describing your feelings on the situation and getting other students to sign it. Or perhaps even in the second situation it might be better to start with a few students who come visit your instructor's office. Things to worry about in the second situation are (i) you don't want to attribute a complaint to a classmate unless you have specifically talked to them about it and gotten their approval and (ii) if you don't handle things with enough discretion it could get back to your inquisitive peer in a way that you don't want.

Perhaps others will disagree, but I really do feel that if the behavior is acceptable to the course instructors then it has to be grudgingly acceptable to you: I would not try to persuade your peer to change his ways. If the additional time spent on your inquisitive peer has consequences in terms of the learning experience, you should bring those consequences to the attention of the instructor, specifically and repeatedly if need be. For instance, if the lectures do not cover all the material that the syllabus says they should, you could ask the instructor what to do about that and whether the exams will be adjusted accordingly. (This is a pointed, but fair, question.) If at the end of the course it turns out that indeed the learning experience was compromised in this way, then you should give appropriate feedback about it.

The only case I can think of in which I would confront your peer directly is if you have as much discussion with the instructor(s) as you can, they agree that the questions are derailing the lectures but are themselves unwilling to do anything in response. They are then really not doing their job, and I think at that point you would be justified in trying to intervene: it seems like the least evil.

  • 11
    +1 for "specific information about other students who feel the same way." It really annoys me when all students with complaints insist that they know all other students have the same complaint (without any specific evidence) when the previous student in my office has the exact opposite complaint, and also is sure that all other students agree with him.
    – ff524
    Commented Oct 25, 2015 at 1:56
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    @ff524 good to know. In this case I know of a handful of people who happen to agree that this is a problem. Another factor that I didn't mention is that this student happens to be from an international school where his classes were much smaller and more intimate. It's possible that he's just not used to a larger classroom where the etiquette is different.
    – Byte Lab
    Commented Oct 25, 2015 at 2:00
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    @110100101110101 That's a possibility. Some people are also natural "questioners", and do no have much inhibition about asking. In my experience, many students are unwilling to ask questions in class: they're too timid, find the professor unapproachable, are afraid of looking bad, or just not willing to invest themselves in the issue. This can leave some professors uncertain of how to proceed: they're not used to this much attention, and in principle they do want their students engaged and asking questions, so how to ask this one student to ease off without discouraging the other students? Commented Oct 25, 2015 at 2:12
  • The way you gather evidence about the views of other students is to write a letter and let other students sign it. I don't know whether that's a good first step. Socially it's quite akward to do gather signatures like that without first speaking to the offending person directly.
    – Christian
    Commented Oct 25, 2015 at 9:12
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    @Christian: I agree that's probably not a good first step, and I tried to indicate that in my answer. This might be warranted in a situation like the following: the OP is studying with a group of 10 friends, the topic comes up, and everyone agrees on the spot with the OP. Bringing 11 people to the instructor's office is probably too many, so they could write something down and send a smaller number of representatives. Commented Oct 25, 2015 at 9:47

I wouldn't make an appointment. Simply wait until the next time this student uses up more than 10 minutes in a class. At the end of class, approach the instructor and wait until others leave. Then say "Joe's question really cut into our class time today, and not for the first time." This should start the conversation in which you can express your concerns about material not getting covered, or you not getting to ask questions, or it just being boring to listen to Joe's one-on-one tutoring sessions.

Why do I not want you to make an appointment, bring other students, bring a list of who else feels this way and won't fit in the office, and explain to your prof specifically what gets missed when 20 out of 50 minutes are spent tutoring one student? Because it's patronizing. It's making a big formal deal out of something that your prof already knows. Some "help vampires" are very good at derailing intelligent people, who intellectually know they should not be helping the person right here and now, and getting their help right here and now.

Given that your prof knows intellectually this shouldn't be happening, all they really need is a little reminder and support, as close to the incident as possible. Waiting for an appointment, gathering your posse, meeting with others to write out the (incredibly obvious really) consequences of the time spent inappropriately in lectures - this may all feel exciting and important, but there's no need for it.

If your class has a post class tutorial, Joe should be dominating that instead. I had a student who would use the whole hour if no-one else came. If someone else came, he would let them ask all they wanted and use all the remaining time. We had some very interesting conversations. But he never interrupted lectures for them. If you don't have a tutorial session then Joe should be going to office hours or whatever is needed to grasp the material. Your prof already knows this, but is having trouble saying it when Joe's hand goes up. Don't try to teach your prof this, just remind and support, that's all.

  • 5
    +1 for a lightweight and informal approach – I doubt there's much need for deputations and signatures and so on. This seems to come down to a problem of classroom management, and a brief ‘some of us find these long digressions unhelpful’ may be all the prompt the lecturer needs to reflect on how best to manage these interventions. Commented Oct 25, 2015 at 18:23
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    Up voted both response and comment: the bottom line is, start informal first, before getting formal. It is very unpleasant if the first warning shot is already formal and can trigger an avalanche of near-hostile entrenchment by prof or Joe early on. Commented Jan 6, 2016 at 13:04

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