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Q is for Question – It's true: some are dumb. But the right questions are priceless.


It's a lie, of course, that there are no dumb questions. During grad school I TA'ed a course with a lively discussion section. The next to last week of term, a student sauntered in whom I hadn't seen since the second or third week of term; I had assumed he dropped the course.


No matter. I launched into review for the exam. But within minutes a look of panic came over his face.


"Wait!" he blurted out. "What is the name of this course?!"


For a moment I looked at the other students, and they looked back at me. None of us could process what was happening.


"Seriously?" I finally managed to say. "There's one week left in the course, and that's seriously the question you want to ask?"


"There are no dumb questions," was his response.


"Well, actually there are..."


Questions are everything in college - and beyond. The folks who really get that principle will also get the most of their experience in college - and beyond.


In high school there's usually a penalty to asking things. If the question is "too simple," people roll their eyes to make clear how dumb they think you are. If the question is "too complicated," they roll your eyes to make clear what a kiss-up they think you are. And no question ever seems to be just right.


Hardly the right atmosphere in which to master this skill.


Here are four simple but critical principles for asking questions - whether you are asking them of your professor in class, asking them of your readings to create an internal dialog with them, or posing them at the outset of a research project.