8

I'm currently a PhD student suffering from extreme anxiety after finding some mistakes in my scientific paper 7 months back. I've talked to my supervisor about it and he said that those were simple errors that would not affect my conclusions... Something that triggers for my anxiety is the fact that we issued a formal statement to correct them, hence this will be forever on my record. Furthermore, I discovered a ridiculous calculation error in the estimation of one of the parameters that I'm comparing in my paper that would change the looks of three points in my graph (which has around 30 points in total) -and this wasn't corrected in the statement because the estimation I used, even though originated from a silly mistake, can still be valid depending on how you consider the system. I suffer from constant fear of people thinking that I'm a dishonest researcher and that I fabricated data, because the data that I got from a mistake looks better than the "correct" one, even though the main parameter we show in this particular figure doesn't change in either case... I'm really against dishonesty of any kind, so this is a huge deal for me.

I know that my supervisor assured me that everything was ok and that he is happy with my performance regardless of those mistakes, however I can't help but think that my record is "stained" and that I'm a bad person that does not belong in academia. I was doing pretty well so far, but then my entire life fell apart after this. I feel like I lost the ability of feeling excited about my research... I think I've failed my life goals and my moral values.

Have someone gone through something comparable in academic life? How did you cope with the constant feeling of unworthiness?

Thanks in advance...

Edit: Differently from the question pointed out as duplicate, I would also like to know how researchers view my mistakes and how can I regain my confidence to carry on with my work..

8

I'm going to suggest you attack this on three fronts:

1) As you progress as a researcher, I think you will come to realize that minor errors in published research are actually quite common. I define minor errors as those that don't affect the conclusions of the paper. See this question/answers: How common is it for submitted papers to have minor errors?

2) Understand that corruption is actually about intent and secrecy. High profile cases of corruption and ruined careers only generally happen when the researcher or the study is famous and the problem involves purposefully lying. You can easily avoid this type of situation by putting a corrected version of the paper on your website. See this question/answers: How does an Erratum on one's own paper affect one's career as a researcher?

3) Get a handle on how you think about problems like this, which are relatively common in the life you have chosen. I would suggest that there is a long way between "reasonably cautious"/"feeling embarrassed" and "extreme anxiety"/"failed my life goals and my moral values"/"bad person that does not belong in academia." I am going to strongly suggest seeking out your university counseling services, if available. See my answer to this (only somewhat related) question: How do I know that I have truly lost interest in research and should drop out of a top CS PhD program? Or similar: How to deal with fear of failure as a PhD student?

4

Sure, we all want to publish error-free papers, but mistakes happen sometime, and when mistakes happen, the best you can do is be proactive to get the correct information out there (and do better next time so you don't make the same mistakes again).

I know of one particular case in my area of research that sort of matches what you are experiencing. In 1997, Derek Shaeffer, who, at the time, was a PhD student at Stanford, published a paper with his advisor, Tom Lee, in the IEEE Journal of Solid-State Circuits. Then, due to some errors in the original paper, not one, but two correction papers were published to correct the mistakes of the original paper.

Things apparently turned out OK for Derek: he is now the Director of Engineering at Apple in Silicon Valley.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.