As a new Pioneer scholar conducting advanced research with a university professor, asking questions can be nerve-racking. It is hard to admit that you don’t understand something, and many students may fear looking foolish in front of faculty mentors or peers. This shouldn’t hold you back. Not only is it normal not to have all the answers, but learning to ask questions is essential for growth as a scholar. Pioneer scholars conquer the fear of asking questions and gain confidence to lean into curiosity.
Pioneer scholar Jumana (computational quantum chemistry, 2019), from Bangladesh, advises incoming students to build strong relationships with faculty mentors by voicing questions whenever they arise. “For those of you who are a bit like me and love asking questions, I would say don’t hold back because this is a great opportunity to clear your doubts and go outside your field,” she says. For students who are nervous about asking questions in person, Jumana suggests easing into it using the learning resources provided by Pioneer. “For students who are a bit more hesitant and shy, asking questions may be a bit difficult in the beginning. But in order to learn something, you don’t always need to ask the professor something directly. You can send your professor a message in [the course management system] and be assured that there will be a prompt response. Once you do that, perhaps you will feel more confident to ask questions directly during the meeting,” Jumana suggests.
Yining (philosophy, 2018; anthropology, 2019), a Pioneer scholar from China, suggests planning ahead to get the most out of conversations with professors. When contacting professors, he advises asking questions in advance to accommodate for the fact that professors may have busy schedules. When asking questions in class, he says, “you can sort of rehearse the questions in your mind before asking them.” However, there is no reason to overthink it––faculty mentors are there to help, and more than willing to take the time and effort to understand students’ questions.
Journey (neuroscience, 2019), from the United States, says that her experience as a Pioneer scholar boosted her confidence interacting with professors and helped with the transition from high school to college. To ask questions, Journey says she had to get over “the feeling of having an insufficient amount of knowledge to approach a professor.” She says that Pioneer helped her overcome this fear because her faculty mentor was approachable and interested in her research. Journey has carried this confidence with her to her university studies. She explains, “[Interactions with my Pioneer faculty mentor] made me realize that other professors are most likely that way as well, they want you to ask them questions. They want you to approach them and say hey, this is what I’m interested in.”
Asking questions fuels your curiosity as a scholar and helps to build and strengthen mentorship relationships. While it may be scary at first, Pioneer scholars testify to the fact that it is worth stepping out of your comfort zone to ask professors questions, whether in cohort meetings, one-on-one sessions, or even in writing. Pioneer Academics provides a supportive environment to build confidence interacting with professors that you will carry with you for the rest of your academic career.