For present and future students who may have indulged in the Biden-Palin debate last week, a few bits of advice:
On exams, when I ask a question, do not expect anything other than a zero for an answer that takes the form “I don’t like the question, let me answer a different one”. (Well, negative credit is possible, if you go ahead and give me an incorrect answer to the question you foisted on me.)
On qualifying exams, a similar tactic will be penalized most severely (it is not advisable to try and school your committee, and especially to try and distract your committee from the obvious fact that you haven’t a clue). If you don’t know the answer, “I don’t know” is the best response. Short, sweet, and mercifully to the point.
If you have passed these hurdles, again, at the time of your thesis defense, “let me answer a different question” is a perilous route to try. You may be able to pull off an interesting change-of-pace and come across as provocative and informed. More likely, you’ll seem like someone who is trying to bluff his/her way around a difficult question. Bad move.
I’m just sayin’ ….