Ask the grumpies: Odd student questions

Rumpus asks:

What’s the oddest question a student has asked you?

#1:  Well, my story here is probably too complicated a build-up for not enough payoff, but I’ll make up for it with the oddest question I’ve ever heard from when I was an undergrad in the next paragraph.  Here’s my story: there was the time when we were talking about instrumental variables in class and we were talking about this instrument for divorce that is sex of the first child.  (If you have a boy, you are less likely to get divorced.)  So I ask the class how that instrument could be invalidated– the answer is if the child’s sex is correlated with other things that are correlated with divorce.  So I talk about some research that has been done showing that people who cohabit are more likely to have one gender and those who don’t cohabit are more likely to have children of another gender.  Which derails the class into explaining Taking Charge of Your Fertility and drawing girl and boy sperm on the board… (My other section did NOT get derailed like this.)  Anyhow, after class in office hours a bunch of students start asking me about birth control!  They never had it in high school because this is a God-fearing state.  And one guy asks me about condom failure rates.  (Thankfully students from the Midwest are able to clarify things so I don’t have to…)

Anyhow, the oddest question I ever heard.  One of my math professors in an advanced analysis class asked if there were any questions after she finished a proof.  One of my classmates asked, “Is it ok to get married to someone even if you don’t love her so long as she really loves you?”  He did get married to her, and as a young undergraduate.  I learned that it is better to have premarital sex than to get married to someone you don’t love because you’re concupiscent.  Especially if you’re not allowed to divorce for the same reason you’re not allowed pre-marital sex.

#2:  Ooh, ooh, I actually keep a list on this!  Let me find it… Let’s see here…

“You seem so together.  What’s weird about you?” (This is odd on many levels, trust me.)

“Do you like cheese?”  Doesn’t everybody?  Except lactose intolerant people.  Poor things.

“Are you a hard grader?”  What am I supposed to say?

“Why do you have to travel so much?”  Wrong question.  Right question:  Why is our conference travel budget so small?

“How does your job affect your role as a family member? ”  Gnrf.

“What is your weirdest talent?”  uh…

“Are you a connoisseur of LOLCatz? ”  Yes…

“Can we get email reminders about the homework in between classes?”  No.

What’s the oddest question a student has ever asked you or another professor?

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18 Responses to “Ask the grumpies: Odd student questions”

  1. Foscavista Says:

    For me: “How can you speak that foreign language if you are not from that country that speaks that foreign language?”

  2. Susane Says:

    My funny, less odd question involves my freshman Micro class. 4 weeks into the semester I assigned a homework to be due next Tuesday and a guy raises his hand and says “Wait. This class meets Thursdays and Tuesdays?”

  3. bogart Says:

    Oh dear. I did once have a student come to office hours because in my lectures I referred to the “Congress,” the “legislature,” the “House” and the “Senate,” and she wanted to know how those things related to one another. I said, “Well, I’m glad you asked.” I mean, heck, she took her time to come and try to resolve her confusion (it worked).

    My dad tells a similar (possibly apocryphal) story about a recent Ivy league Ph.D. who started a new faculty role in a large nearby state institution (not the flagship) and was giving a detailed lecture on the relationship between the 3 branches of government. Supposedly a student raised his hand and asked, “What did you say those 3 parts [branches] are, again?” Supposedly after that the faculty member threw away all his prepared lecture notes for the semester and started again from scratch (OTOH what assistant prof. has lecture notes prepared for a semester in advance — see? Likely apocryphal, but still funny).

  4. Leah Says:

    I teach bio for non science majors, and we have STDs and birth control as part of the curriculum. Students whine in advance (and some whine on the evals) about these topics, but trust me when I say that students don’t know about either. We live in a county with the highest rate of chalmydia in the state, which is why the topics were started. When we saw what students know (both with in class discussion and on quizzes), we were further convinced to keep teaching.

    All my strangest questions have to do with personal stuff. I sometimes use myself (my cat, etc) to explain a concept. I was explaining punnet squares for eye color and imagining the babies my then-boyfriend and I might have (we have different color eyes and so do my parents, so there’s a generational component too — it’s a good illustration of the topic). And one of my students raises his hand and says “wait, does he know you’re talking about your future potential kids? How can you be serious enough to know you might marry him?” I think this student thought I was younger than I am. I’m also not sure this student had ever had a girlfriend, so I think the dating concept was a bit lost on him.

  5. darchole Says:

    I’m lactose intolerant and I still like cheese it just doesn’t like me back…

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      Ah. I think to dislike cheese one must be allergic/intolerant to it, but cheese is so awesome one can still be intolerant and like it, even if it doesn’t return the love. We sorrow for you.

  6. Debbie M Says:

    I once heard of a student who was waiting for the professors to hand out the textbooks (like in grade school). Well, when no one tells you that you have to buy your own books, how do you find out?

    The main thing that comes to mind though is when I saw a guy who was in a class I was TA’ing for at a party after the class was over and he complimented me by saying that it had crossed his mind to wonder whether students were allowed to date their TAs. In his case the question was moot because I don’t date people who can’t divide by one without a calculator. (At first I had assumed he was just frazzled because the TA was standing over him when he said, “Just let me do this.” But after he saw the answer, he was even more confused and said, “Oh. It’s the same.” Ow.)

  7. Rumpus Says:

    I can’t think of anything too odd, but I regularly hear, “Wait, we need our lab manuals in lab?”
    Another regular question is, “Can I turn in the pre-lab the day after the lab?”

    • Leah Says:

      I have vaguely debated making a 5 point assignment some random week out of simply bringing the lab manual to class. It hasn’t been a problem in previous semesters, but I have a few students right now who just never remember.

      Of course, one of those students has a high B, I believe, so it obviously isn’t impacting his performance too much.

  8. Funny about Money Says:

    Oddest question: I can’t recall.

    Best excuse for a late paper: “My kid dipped my flash drive in his milk.”


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