Last week I met my mentor (and also my potential supervisor) for my PhD. He suggested me to read a paper which is also related to my master's thesis.

I read that paper and some questions popped into my mind and I want to share them with him. Also, I would like to impress him and show him I fully understand the paper. I wonder how I should talk about the paper with my potential supervisor.

  • I second @astronat: just approach them and ask. – Oleg Lobachev Oct 21 '18 at 17:13
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    “I would like to impress him” — I recommend against this, it’s bound to backfire. Don’t try to impress. This either happens automatically, or not at all. – Konrad Rudolph Oct 22 '18 at 11:43

Organise a meeting with him, sit down and say "Bob, I have a couple of questions about that paper you suggested I read last week". And then ask the questions.

Don't overthink this. It really is that simple.


If you're trying to impress your supervisor, which is totally reasonable for a new graduate student trying to establish himself, there are a several things you could discuss.

  1. Mention the good things about the paper, and how it compares to related work.

  2. Mention the shortcomings in the paper, if you mention shortcomings not mentioned in the paper itself, even better. Go further and mention how these shortcomings could be fixed.

  3. Suggest how you can build on top of this paper for the masters thesis you intend to embark on.

  4. If there are things you don't understand from the paper make an effort to do your homework and try to understand them. If after your best effort you don't understand something, mention to your advisor you are not quite sure about a particular thing. If your advisor is a reasonable person he/she will try to explain the concept to you or point you to relevant resources if he/she doesn't understand it.

At a high level you should think critically about the paper. Weigh the pros and cons, and think about how you can use this paper in your research. These are just some general questions to think about when reading any paper.

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    Mentioning shortcomings, while it may be academically impressive, might have the opposite effect on a personal level, especially when you're under pressure to make a good impression. I'd recommend establishing rapport before doing that. (I also believe this question is less about the academic side, and more about the personal side of the situation.) – jpaugh Oct 21 '18 at 16:34
  1. Unless your observations contradict a foundation of the paper, mention its positive points.
  2. If your observation derives directly from the paper, show the logical connection, and how it may enhance the paper's points.
  3. If your observation is tangential to the subject matter of the paper, show the tangential relation, and if there is a semantic relation.
  4. If the field of study admits for some formal proof, give some sketch of how you might prove your point.
  • The OP said "some questions popped into my mind". I would suggest the most likely question that a new graduate is going to have about a paper that a potential PhD supervisor has written will be of the form "I don't understand ..." (about a specific point). Your answer doesn't address that. – Martin Bonner Oct 22 '18 at 12:28

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