I'm an undergraduate student, rising senior. I've been immersed in academia now since freshmen year, and I'd like to pursue a PhD in Computer Science in the future. I'm posting here because I just feel hopeless right now.
I've had research experiences at top schools, like MIT, and now, at a top research company (where I've been for a couple of months).
I know to the readers these sound impressive, but with every experience, I feel like I let my mentors and advisors down. I feel like they all had really high expectations for me -- and I just disappointed them.
With every opportunity -- and in every scenario, whether it was in school or some other aspect of my life -- I noticed a common pattern in myself : I just didn't want to learn.
I did very well in high school. I do very well in college. But I just don't have the motivation to learn ... anything. I want good grades. I want to build the projects I have in mind. I want to finish my research project and get that publication. But I don't want to put the work in. Everything I achieved through academics was done under some combination of procrastination, stress, fatigue, and luck. I never really cared about what I was learning. I often did things just the day before, or late. I only learned just enough to do the assignment or get the grade I want. I always thought -- I can learn it the way I'm supposed to later. I just wanted the results. I wanted to look good on paper. I didn't want to feel ashamed in front of my mentors and co-workers, so I always did just enough to look like I was doing something.
These couple of months that I've gotten the opportunity to work as a research intern at a top research company (I didn't even get an interview to get there, I think I just got lucky), I've felt like shit. I knew nothing about NLP when I got here, and now it's the focus of my project. I've been working with neural nets for 2 years now, but I still don't fully understand the basics. I just feel like I should know this by now. And with every meeting, I feel like I'm doing the bare minimum -- just enough to look like I was doing something.
I feel too slow. Whenever I have to learn about a new topic or read a new paper, I get overwhelmed. I think I will never understand it enough to be able to contribute anything meaningful. And when I see how knowledgeable, motivated, and quick people are about their work, I get discouraged. I feel like time is quickly passing me by, and I am crumbling under every passing day.
Now I'm contemplating whether I will even have potential for an academic career in computation, or an academic career in anything, or a career at all. I know I love solving problems. I know I am creative and have good ideas when I really understand something. But that's what I'm worried about. What if I never attain that level of understanding?
I just don't know -- is this normal and must I just learn to deal with it? Am I experiencing this just because I'm at a different level than my co-workers here, who are PhD's and research scientists? Have academics gone through this phase where they feel like they just can't do it? Or is there some underlying issue? What have been people's experiences?