Make sure your questions are good ones.
Think about these examples. What kind of a impression do these make?
A student made a habit of asking for numerous clarifications of the course requirements and due dates that were already written in the course outline.
My reaction: the course outlines took an entire day to write and edit and the student did not even read it?
A student would often ask the professor to tutor her on skills that prerequisites or support services are there to provide.
Another student would need those skills and not ask the professor but would just go without those skills.
What would you tell him? You would probably say, “Go and get the skills!”
During a test, a student was tackling a question designed to test whether students understood concept X. Although the test was a silent test, and no questions at all were supposed to be asked, the student asked me to clarify the question, specifically what did the term “concept X” mean. I can’t answer that without giving away the test answer.
With better judgement, the student would have figured that on any given question, several students simply answer any given question incorrectly, and the question is only worth one point. Why draw attention to the fact that she did not know the concept, and disrespect the rules of the test?
A student emails to ask some career-related questions about something he has read on the website of company XYZ. The questions have shown some initiative so the professor gives him a few names at the company, knowing that all the contact information at that firm are easily located on the same website. The student emails back with thanks, and the question “do you have an email address for Joe Blow?”
Does the initial positive impression not almost entirely deflate?
You have undoubtedly been in a class where a student will pipe up and ask a question to which the answer is essentially a paraphrase of what the professor has just been explaining over the last five minutes. What type of a reference would you give that classmate?
As the classmates of the last student would agree, there is such a thing as a stupid question.
Is it really fair that one little thing could affect my future references?
The fact is that these are rarely one-time slips. The students seem to be unaware of the impression they are making. If being a little blunt here saves someone from making a bad impression, it is worth it.
By all means, have a dialogue with professors. Ask questions to clarify theoretical principles or to check that you understand how they apply. Challenge what you are learning and do ask questions. but make sure your questions make a good impression.