186

I have responsibility for students with alternate needs within a Computer Science department and thus have professional experience of the situation you describe. It is not uncommon in our subject. Our experience is that computing attracts a higher proportion of students on the Autistic Spectrum than do other disciplines. We are operating with about (my ...


174

I got angry, but. . how should I handle similar situations? Got angry? No good! You're not necessarily paid to answer his question but you are paid to help advance knowledge and learning. Unfortunately, the tone of your answer doesn't let us know exactly how "silly" the question was (was it silly because it was personal question that had no bearing on ...


113

If somebody asks a dumb question, they're not going to feel good about the interaction whatever happens. If possible, get them back on the right track but avoid saying anything that could be interpreted as sarcasm and move on as quickly as possible. The most likely thing is either that the questioner has missed something obvious or misunderstood something ...


107

Keep asking the dumb questions! It is better to look like a fool, than to be one. You worry that many speakers are annoyed at the `elementary' questions. Some speakers do it because they are stressed about public talking, and any question upsets them. For some, communication of mathematics is not the aim of the talk; they give it because it is a condition ...


102

Answering from the point of view of a physical scientist, and in keeping with my personal take on what kinds of help are appropriate or inappropriate. (I haven't been a TA for a long time, but I teach at an all-undergrad department so I have to be my own TA.) These are great teachable moments if you have the time (and it can take a lot of time). You don't ...


101

Yes, it is appropriate to ask the questioner to repeat the question, prefaced by: "I'm sorry but I didn't understand the question. Can you repeat it or rephrase it?" If you still don't understand it, you might ask someone else in the audience to restate it or rephrase it. Some people at academic conferences are not good at asking clear, direct ...


101

The criticism is that you're not up to date on the current state of your own field of specialty, and it is not a light matter. If the "reviewer" is some sort of committee member that can throw a wrench into your exit process, you should address the criticism. The real issue is how to address it. My assumption here is that your defense will be "typical", ...


98

As a fellow TA, I would definitely recommend that you discuss this issue with the professor in charge of the course as taking matters into your own hands without his knowledge (especially with special cases like these) could cause problems. When discussing the issue with the professor, I would refrain from using the phrase "mental condition".


95

Professors are busy and receive a lot of mail (> 100 per day, not counting mass-mailings). It's rational for them to skim past the salutations and introductory parts until the end, where you usually find "the gist". Obviously, this filter is fast but imperfect. To ensure that you get a response to all of your questions, write very short and very neat emails....


92

"you can't be serious, this is not a question!" Don't say this. Regardless of the question, this makes it sound like you think the student is either (1) intentionally wasting time or (2) very stupid. You can't make progress from there. Next, if it's a quick question that's related to the topic of the course, but not the lecture necessarily, then the best ...


92

Another option that I saw once and I thought was, frankly, pretty great: In my Introduction to Logic class my professor taught from Powerpoint slides, and the slide was divided into two sections, the main section on the left, and a small column on the right. The column on the right was titled "Questions You Probably Have" and was exactly that. Underneath ...


87

Before asking a question, ask yourself the following: If I get a nice detailed and understandable answer to this question, will I be able to understand a significant part of the rest of the talk? If the answer is "no", then you should probably not ask the question even if there really is some ambiguity that could be cleared up, because chances are that ...


87

Did you pass your thesis defense? If so, it's all water under the bridge. If it is eating you up inside, you could send a polite note to the senior professor (cc:ing your advisor) thanking them for the question and that now that you've had a chance to re-check things, that you are ever more certain that your method is different from the suggested prior ...


82

There is no such thing as a dumb question is a good adage for the classroom, where our mission is to teach students, and we have a number of weeks to accomplish the learning objectives. We use this maxim to encourage students to ask questions rather than fall behind. However, there is such a thing as an annoying question can be an equally true corollary, ...


82

The situation is complicated so there is no simple answer. Over time you and your instructor(s) will have to work out a modus vivendi. From my point of view as a teacher, I want you to try to continue to ask. I find more students hesitant than persistent - and it's the persistent ones who force me to be clear. At the beginning of each semester and often ...


78

First, if a reviewer stated that you should better do something, then you better do something (in most cases, do what the reviewer says, unless you have a very good reason to do something else). Second, the reviewer is right here. You have to keep up to date with the literature, and provide a literature review in your thesis which is up to date at the time ...


69

Firstly, I should note that the examples you give are certainly somewhat agressively formulated (more so than would be common in my field), but not in themselves invalid questions. It is certainly "allowed" to be critical of the presented work, and there is nothing the session chair can or should do about this. As a speaker, it always helps to think in ...


68

Students often have a highly distorted perception of themselves with respect to the feelings of their professors. The differential in both power and experience between student and professor is just so large that it's quite common for a student to confuse the very distinct attributes of professorial attitude, personal affection, and intellectual respect. ...


63

I agree that honesty is the best policy, and it's too bad if you're in a situation in which you feel worried about admitting you don't know the answer. You shouldn't try to bluff, by pretending you know but don't have time to explain or by giving an intentionally vague answer. However, there are ways of handling it more smoothly than just saying "I don't ...


63

As with the other answers, I will echo that it's OK to not understand and to ask for somebody to repeat themselves. Even as a native speaker I often have a hard time understanding a question. Sometimes, though, it's not because the question's hard to hear, but because the reasoning behind it is odd or because the question is just not coherent to begin with....


62

I don't want the lecturer to feel like maybe they've done a poor job of explaining when perhaps I'm just not grokking an underlying principle. If you're not grokking an underlying principle, the lecturer has done a poor job of explaining.* ;) More importantly, though: Never lie about your level of understanding. Ever. If you don't understand, say so. ...


55

We are in full agreement that there are in fact dumb (or, more accurately, non-productive) questions, and I do not think that it is your responsibility as a speaker to make the asker of the question feel better about himself to the expense of the rest of the audience. When this sort of thing happens to me, I try to answer accurately, politely and to the ...


53

If the student is just overexcited and more advanced than others, then the question linked above by ff524 has an excellent answer. However, that does not seem to be the case. By all appearances, the student talks to talk, and drops references to superior knowledge - real or imagined - to show it off. I've studied with plenty of students whose knowledge ...


48

Forget about it and go on with your day.


47

Since the OP specifically mentions the case of job talks and none of the other answers do, let me concentrate on that in my answer. 1) In a job talk, unless you specifically know otherwise, you should assume that everyone in the audience is someone who could have a direct hand in hiring you. In the job talk I gave at my current university, a graduate ...


47

Being a student myself I know how frustrating it can be to work with technics or facilities you don't know enough about. Sometimes this means asking fully detailed questions can be tricky. But there is a difference between a student that tries to ask a question to get help with their problem, and one that just declares that they have a problem and thinks it ...


47

As others have noted in the comments, there's a difference between questions that have legitimate content but an unnecessarily aggressive tone (e.g., "Isn't it obvious that won't work for reason X, you fool?"), and questions that are purely verbal attacks with no real substance ("How did you even get accepted to this conference?"). As a speaker, the best ...


47

Note: This started out as a comment to vonbrand's answer, but grew a bit too long, so I turned it into a separate answer of its own. While asking students to defer any distracting (irrelevant, too advanced, based on a quirky misunderstanding, etc.) questions until after class can indeed be a good way to deal with such interruptions in general, it may not ...


45

It is important to recognize that this is not happening to you because you are a junior researcher. At every point in your career, somebody will feel (and, distressingly often, openly state) that your work is not good enough, goes into the wrong direction, is not "real" science, tackles the wrong problems, uses the wrong tools, or is in some other way flawed....


45

"This is beyond the scope of the course" is not a great answer without further clarification or commentary. As you say, the ethos of the university is that your instructor is someone whose qualifications and expertise lie far beyond the scope of any undergraduate course. The answer is justified for a student who asks a certain kind of question in class, ...


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