I am a computer-science PhD student. I like to work on things and I enjoy doing computer science. But here is a problem: I am not that much into debates. When I meet with my supervisor, he asks me some questions and I try to answer those. I don’t go into debates on the research questions. I like to do research independently, also in a collaboration, but only to a small extent. Many of my friends ask me to enter into debates, but I don’t like it much. I like mostly objective sorts of questions. I like subjective questions also, but to a small extent.

Question: Is it possible for non-debating person to survive in research?

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    "I like mostly objective sort of questions I mean subjective also but to small extent." - I would contest that there are any objective questions in Science. A theory, of any kind, forces you to commit to particular concepts. As a Computer Scientist, you are probably committed to Turing Machines as a conceptualisation of an algorithm and a computer, for example. This is where there can be differences of opinion. Which conceptualisation you take, in turn, affects those objective questions (no gene-centered evolution without the concept of genes). That aside, it is a good question. Apr 16, 2018 at 15:17
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    What do you mean by debate?
    – user2768
    Apr 16, 2018 at 15:27
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    I don't know about computer science, but in my field of science, being able (or wanting to) to defend your work or discuss controversial topics in the field is absolutely critical to succeeding as a researcher.
    – phimac
    Apr 16, 2018 at 16:45

3 Answers 3


You don’t need to debate as a researcher, but you do need to be able to defend your ideas to someone who’s going to want to know the details. This will apply not only to your advisor, but attendees at conferences and seminars, and people who read your work and respond to it.

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    Debate: noun, a discussion on a particular topic in which opposing arguments are put forward. If you can't engage in a discussion with someone whose ideas differ from yours, you'll have a very hard time understanding a responding to scientific criticism. The ability to debate scientific theories and methodologies is absolutely at the core of science. I see no distinction at all between "debate" and "defense of ideas". Apr 16, 2018 at 17:53
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    @NuclearWang You don’t need to be formally trained in debate methods or rhetoric to be able to justify your work. There’s no need to turn a question into a confrontation, which is what the OP seems to think will happen.
    – aeismail
    Apr 16, 2018 at 18:07
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    Hm, I didn't see anything in the question alluding to formal debate techniques or confrontation. Rather, I'm using "debate" in the colloquial sense of a discussion of differing viewpoints. Virtually all PhD-level science requires some subjective interpretation of methods, assumptions, and facts. Strictly objective questions with only one defensibly correct approach or answer are not particularly interesting avenues of doctoral research. Why would a discussion of the merits of different scientific approaches fall outside the colloquial definition of "debate"? Apr 16, 2018 at 18:44

Overall, this sounds like a personality difference. There are lots of successful academics who want to think about things for a while rather than exploring the ideas out loud. Ideally, you'll find a way to work with your supervisor's style while also retaining the benefits of a more contemplative style. (And you're not alone. There are jokes about how many hands academics actually have, because so often they say, "On the one hand... on the other hand...")

What I'm picturing when you say "debate" is some of my friends. (A synonym here may be "BS" or "brainstorm.") They have personalities where they love saying crazy ideas out loud and then poking holes in them and figuring out which parts are wrong. There are often cultures that build up around this, where people who want to do this find each other and build off of each other. If this is what you're talking about, then I don't think it's a problem for your research that that's not your dominant mode.

If these debates are more grounded (along the lines of what you might see at a thesis defense), then you might be feeling conflict-avoidance, where you avoid disagreeing with people and feel extremely uncomfortable when others are in disagreement. Or you might be nervous and find it hard to come up with arguments when people are putting you on the spot. Or you might be answering fine, but not enjoying the process. You can definitely develop those skills and get better at them.

Finally, you may be interested in the book Quiet, about the benefits of being an introvert. It has many examples of how people can succeed in a variety of jobs even though their personality does not match the stereotypical person there.


In order to be a successful researcher you will certainly need to be able to justify your work and deal with counter-arguments and objections to what you have done. Even highly objective research topics often involve matters of judgment where reasonable disagreement can arise, and it is good if you can anticipate potential objections to your work (or seek these out) and respond to them in a clear and coherent way.

Having said this, it is not necessary for you to be able to do this extemporaneously in conversation, and so it that is your aversion to debating then it should not be a problem. Research work gives you plenty of time to think about your views on a topic and write them down clearly. You will need to be able to "debate" in the broad sense of justifying your work and responding to objections, but you will not generally need to debate in the narrower sense of an extemporaneous argument.

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