I am a 6th year PhD in computational chemical engineering. I have extensively used Lammps for my Molecular dynamics simulations. However there are many aspects of the modeling tools that I have no idea about ( like the time integration procedures used, the algorithms to make parallel computing possible...etc). This makes me feel bad about myself. I know that it is not possible to know everything and an important part of PhD is research output, so not all attention can be diverted into learning everything about the tool.

But, my question is, what to do if that bothers me greatly? I don't feel like a potential expert in my research and I feel like that's something to worry about.

How does one feel like an expert or become confident about their research/technical abilities? Does that come from acknowledgement of the deficiencies and being humble of the fact that probably I won't know many aspects of many things?

Are there any advice you would like to give a new PhD graduate to ensure a satisfying research career?

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    Do you feel like you are able to distinguish between (a) imposter syndrome and (b) the need to master these tools for your research? In other words, do you need these affordances of the modeling tools for your research, or are you measuring yourself based on what you assume others know? Nov 21, 2019 at 16:16
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    This sounds like impostor syndrome to me! If there's specific aspects of the tool that you NEED in order to complete your research and your lack of knowledge is holding you back, then seek out tutorials or in-person help for those specific aspects. But otherwise not knowing every aspect of the tool you use isn't a problem, it's normal.
    – ekl
    Nov 21, 2019 at 16:35
  • Possible duplicate: academia.stackexchange.com/questions/135096/… Nov 22, 2019 at 3:14

3 Answers 3


One feels like an expert by achieving expertise

Assuming that you are able to rationally diagnose your level of knowledge of the topics relevant to your work, the feeling of expertise will come with the actuality of achieving expertise. Ultimately, you will need to make a decision as to how much knowledge of this tool is useful to you, and what would constitute excessive time-allocation to learning that tool. more comprehensively. If you decide that your work does not require you to obtain deeper knowledge in the use of that tool (e.g., learning some of the things you mention) then you should accept that decision and move on to better uses of your time. However, by the same token, this would also involve accepting your limited knowledge of the tool in question. There would be no need to "overcome the feeling" that you are not an expert with the tool, because, well, you are not an expert with the tool.

In terms of the more general question of becoming confident about one's research/technical abilities, this is something that comes gradually as you learn more, produce published research in a field, teach that topic in courses, speak about it at conferences, etc. It is common to feel that you lack expertise when you are still a PhD candidate, or new graduate, and even for the first few years of a postdoc or academic position afterwards. In both cases, that feeling is generally accurate, because most people at that stage are not experts in their field. The feeling you have is merely a demonstration that your subconscious emotional responses are accurately attuned to your present level of knowledge. It is not something that should bother you at all, let alone bother you greatly.

In terms of advice, I urge you to bear in mind that a newly minted PhD graduate is not someone we would consider an academic expert in any field. Such a person is at the baseline level of competence where they are only just about to start doing research without supervision. Put your present level of knowledge in its proper perspective and proceed confident in the fact that you will learn more as your professional life evolves. So long as you work hard and make sound decisions on how to allocate your time to learning skills in your field, expertise in an area of interest will come in due time.


Regarding the tool: Read the manual, search and do tutorials, try and achieve extra results with it as if you wished to get out a paper on the data obtained by specific functions for the software. As gamers say, 'Go hardcore, git gut' Become an expert by becoming an expert user of your tool or at least of the techniques.

As for the advice: Besides the possibility of impostor syndrome, set up objectives for yourself, get goals , personal ones, and work to achieve them. No one can know everything, but you can contribute to the general effort of ignoring less about the world, so yeah, your contributions may be tiny or big, but they are helping out science. Just swallow up expectations and do the ebst you can, and more important, try to enjoy it.


If you don’t have any use for it, don’t feel compelled to learn it (unless it’s for personal enrichment). You’ll forget everything if it doesn’t actually have a use.

You aren’t a worse camper for not knowing how to use the awl/reamer on your swiss army knife. If you can learn tools as you come to need them you’re golden — no reason to stress yourself out.

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