CETL Study Tips: Asking for help shows strength, not weakness

Christina Moore, CETL Virtual Faculty Developer

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It seems obvious that asking questions or for help means you don’t get it when you should. The simple truth is that most of us don’t “get it,” so those who ask for help are the ones who do something about it, and doing something makes all the difference.

In 2015, Dr. Scott Gaier studied students doing well in school to understand how they do it. One of their dispositions, or ways of behaving in a particular situation, was to “seek help.” Successful students don’t already have the answers — they ask to find out and dig deeper. Information-seeking is linked to other behaviors that lead to doing well in school, like being curious and bouncing back from failure (or a growth mindset).

The importance of asking for help doesn’t end with the classroom. When Dr. Brené Brown and other researchers asked thousands of leaders in 2019 how their team members earn their trust, the most frequent answer was “asking for help.” Why? Leaders understood that no one knows everything, so someone who didn’t ask questions was not willing to find the answer, even if it meant their work might suffer. In Brown’s words: “Mind. Blown.”

So, what does this mean for you?

Admit that college is a time for asking questions and for help

 Colleges are unique from just about any other place, whether your high school or workplace. A college has tons of different offices that run a little differently, and it tries to house a million activities, classes, groups, priorities. Even those who work at colleges can’t grasp it all. So if you are feeling overall puzzled, you’re in good company. Fortunately, this means professors, advisers, academic support like the Tutoring Center and the Writing Center, and others working at OU expect and welcome your questions.

Also, sometimes you have questions because things aren’t clear or correct. By asking questions and asking for help, you show you are paying attention and care about your work and success.

Treat asking questions and asking for help as a skill to build

Raising a hand, sending an email, talking to the professor after class or dropping in on office hours are important reps in building important skills as a student and in wherever you want to go from here. Repeat in a variety of ways.

Find your people

 Asking for help isn’t easy, but it’s easier with some than others. In addition to your professor, assemble a group of people you can practice asking questions and for help: an adviser, mentor, college grad, past teacher and even a friend who seems to have it together.

Turn questions into curiosity 

Curiosity is another one of those dispositions of good students and overall creative thinkers. As you get more comfortable with asking questions and for help, keep pushing. Move from what questions to why and how questions. Professors live for these types of questions from their students!

These steps won’t make help-seeking and asking questions easy as pie, but they can make questions easier and more meaningful.

Christina Moore

Center for Excellence in Teaching and Learning

Find more Learning Tips at oakland.edu/teachingtips.