First, I am a mathematics major who is doing an REU (Research Experiences for Undergraduates) in mathematics at my school. Initially, I wanted to do an REU outside of my school because I have had this professor before, and being in his class is difficult, but not unbearable. Right now, it is unbearable. For the first project, he has asked me to prove a proposition in category theory, and his criticism is not helpful nor is it actually advice. He has went as far as to say "this is your project, not mine", even though my proof is actually correct for the problem at hand; I have seen other verified proofs and had mine verified by mathematicians. It just makes me feel stupid, and I feel depressed and stressed coming to school everyday. What are my options in this situation and what is the most ethical?

  • 1
    What do you mean by "his criticism is not helpful nor is it actually advice"? What is the criticism? What do you mean by "had mine verified by mathematicians"? – Bryan Krause May 21 '19 at 17:30
  • 2
    Are you sure you want to be asking about 'ethics' rather than say 'etiquette'? – Anyon May 21 '19 at 18:10
  • 8
    By professors who are math specialists, do you actually mean math professors? And whether you are correct is of course impossible for me to tell from this, but your description of a canonical isomorphism is not actually comprehensible to me in the current form. – Tobias Kildetoft May 21 '19 at 18:15
  • 1
    @Anyon, my guess here is that the OP is asking about the ethics of the professor - or even making a claim of unethical behavior on his part. – Buffy May 21 '19 at 19:51
  • 1
    @Buffy The last sentence would seem to contradict that interpretation. – Anyon May 21 '19 at 19:56

Your professor is not being "unethical". It's possible he's a difficult person but ethics is not a part of this.

There's a pretty good chance that if your professor says your proof is not correct, that it really isn't. And he may not be as unhelpful as you think. Students sometimes think an instructor is unhelpful if they don't give them the answer any time they're stuck. But simply giving you the answer won't make you a better mathematician. Forcing you to keep plugging at it until you find the answer on your own will make you a better mathematician.

My advice: Consider the possibility that he's right, you're not and that he wants you to keep working at it until you solve it on your own and go from there.


It’s really hard to understand your question. In your questions and comments you’re using language in imprecise and confusing ways. I’d imagine that when you try to explain math you’re probably also explaining it in imprecise and confusing ways. My best guess is your professor genuinely doesn’t understand what your argument is. Have you tried writing it down carefully line-by-line and thinking through whether each step is totally clear and explained precisely? It also might help to try to explain it to another student.

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.