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I am currently working for a Computer Science researcher as an undergraduate. I worked for them last semester and have continued into the semester. However, I am having a bit of trouble lately because I feel like I haven't been as helpful as I could be and at times feel like a burden when I ask too many questions or am unsure how to do something. Do advisors get annoyed by undergraduates when they ask too many questions? Is there a way that I can improve? Or any general practices that are good to follow?

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Being a burden is the sine qua non of undergraduate researchers! That's not a dis, it reflects the truth that the professor isn't having you in their lab for your abundant research output, but for your own education (and possibly so they can lure you in to joining them as a graduate student). After all (it's easy to forget sometimes) a professor's main job is education.

Therefore, don't worry about asking too many questions. Those are natural because you're in a situation where nearly every step of your work is new to you. The key thing you want to focus on is how to make it so the question frequency decreases with time. The gradual transition from undergraduate newbie to postdoctoral rock star of course has something to do with gaining additional domain knowledge, but it's just as much about learning how to learn, and learning how to work.

So part of your learning now should be a bit meta. In addition to "how do I write a python script to do X?", your questions should also take the form of "how can I solve this myself?" "before I go to Prof. X, have I googled? did I ask their other students?" "is this related to my previous experience, and, if so, how did I solve it last time?"

I think as long as you are going to Prof. X with novel questions (and getting clarification counts as novelty), then you are doing your job just fine, and answering those questions (or helping you to answer them yourself) is them doing their job.

And to +1 what Buffy said, keeping a good notebook where you record not only your conversations with Prof. X and other members of their group, but also your own learning (like summaries of papers, results of experiments, key techniques you picked up) is a key skill to learn.

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Some advisors will get exasperated and others will be more patient. The latter are to be preferred, but everyone is different. But if you ask too many, look for signals of exasperation. Instead of asking for answers to your questions, you might try asking for places to look for answers.

But even the exasperated professor should be clear if you are becoming a bother. Won't necessarily happen, of course.

In particular, you want to develop insight into your field, not just answers. Insight comes from hard work, of course.


Let me add that asking a lot of questions is, in general, a good thing, though not everyone will agree. But take notes of any conversation, perhaps immediately after, so that you capture the essence in a way that is easier to recall than depending on an imperfect memory.

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