I am a PhD student works in computational theory. I have been doing coursework for nearly three years and right now I am starting to reading research papers. I am making progress very slowly, taking about two to three months to read a paper: even after reading it, I have questions. I have to actually verify every and each sentence of the paper which requires mathematical knowledge, and I have done enough mathematics coursework. I am getting feedback that I am reading too slowly. I have tried to work hard as much as possible, but it is not giving much results. Although there were many times in the past in which I am able to complete the incomplete proofs given in research paper. Struggle basically means completing the incomplete claims or theorems of the research paper.

Question : Is it okay to struggle with the content of research paper you are reading? and Is it going to improve with time? How to be efficient in this situation?

What seems to me little troubling here is I am in a surveying phase (reading research papers), then I will move to publication phase. So first I have read the paper then only I can work on them. I don't How much time other PhD students take to read a research paper. If I am taking 2-3 months for just one paper, is it okay?

  • 2
    Yes, struggling with content is normal. Perhaps you can ask other questions so that I can provide a more constructive answer.
    – user2768
    Commented Apr 24, 2018 at 13:25
  • 1
    Relevant and perhaps a duplication: academia.stackexchange.com/questions/106883/…
    – Dawn
    Commented Apr 24, 2018 at 15:03
  • 1
    I, too, have been thinking about things like this recently. Thank you for your question!
    – SH7890
    Commented Apr 25, 2018 at 18:44

1 Answer 1


Reading a paper shouldn't take long. Now, completely understanding the proofs and details can take a really long time, even months. Specially depending on your background, and on the technical tools/ideas the paper is using. It is okay to take that long.

There are two questions you should ask yourself:

  1. Do I need to completely understand the paper I am reading?
  2. Do I need to prove every line of every paper I read?

The first question is related to reading or skimming through a paper, a more agile read of the paper to understand the main ideas and conclusion. This should allow you to figure out if this is a paper that is useful to you and your research, and if it is, then you move on to the 2nd question.

If the paper is important to you/your research, and contains techniques/ideas that you must know and be comfortable with, then it makes sense to completely understand it and spend a lot of time with. Even still, ask yourself if you need to prove every single statement, or if there is a more important body of statements that you actually care about, so that you do not need to prove every single thing.

It is okay to struggle with what you are reading. And it is also ok to ask questions to smarter or more senior people about it. If you get super stuck ask them for help, and ask them for intuition regarding the result (why is it useful? where did the idea come from? where can it be applied). It is okay to ask! (See Paul Garrett's answer here!)

It is going to improve with time. As long as you work hard, and learn the theory/ideas, you will eventually start to see things repeating here and there, and when they do you will be able to read papers much faster (and, more importantly, identify what is new and where you need to put more attention). Experience and knowledge will naturally lead to efficiency.

Keep working, you can do it! Good luck!

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