Why is asking questions important?
Learning is too often associated with answering questions, but the bread and butter of learning comes from creating and asking questions. When drafting a question, we become conscious of what we do and don’t know, this helps us navigate and expose our assumptions, vagueness, and errors. Learning requires a deep focus on the matter at hand, and creating questions naturally leads to a deeper and more intimate experience with what one is trying to learn.
Instead of being aimlessly confused, questions point us in the right direction as they narrow down what is missing and what needs to be learned. George Polya has a great system on problem-solving based on asking the right questions, but more on that in a later post. I would not have had the opportunity to come across Polya’s work if I had not been engaged in conversations with and asking questions to my professor and math-enthusiast Jeff Anderson.
The shame and resistance attached with asking questions
Students and professionals alike too often believe that they will look dumb for asking questions. Ironically, we further our ignorance on any subject by trying to hide it when we could have exposed it and addressed our confusion right away. Knowing this, however, being vulnerable and putting ourselves out there is still difficult. So how do we develop the confidence to challenge the status quo and put ourselves out there with the pressure of imposter syndrome? From my own experience, I have gratefully been taught and have adopted the mindset that any professor and institution is lucky to have me, for I can work just as hard if not harder than anyone else. Believing in one’s self is crucial, but I too can attest to a time when I was attempting to go through the motions of higher education without knowing if I could truly succeed.
Building an academic support team was vital to my confidence in navigating higher education. Having constant reassurance from friendly professors, peers, and counselors when I felt like a fraud masquerading as a university student helped me develop the foundational confidence that has put me on my path to a doctorate degree. Once we ourselves understand how great our potential is, and even if we aren’t yet aware of it, begin to challenge(politely) everything and everyone in order to learn, that includes our professors. It is okay to be intimidated, but trust that we are worthy enough to ask questions and decide what we do and do not know regardless of the influence of others. Speaking out and asking questions instead of sitting idly is more work, but it is transformative as we no longer pretend to know more than we do.This implies being vulnerable and honest. Even if as a result we are looked down upon by a peer or professor, we will have gained information and addressed our confusion and perhaps addressed the confusion of other peers who were too afraid to ask. By asking questions, we can help set the tone for the lecture and even encourage others to also ask questions and thus give them more control over their own learning experiences!