I have just obtained my Bachelor's in Computer Science (CS) at one of the better universities in Germany. Let me call it AM (Alma Mater). My results during these years were great, i.e. I impressed some professors and I graduated with the highest possible GPA. I decided to do my Master's in CS at the same institution. This was a somewhat forced decision: I did not want to go to the US, and the better universities in Europe (for CS) seem to be located either in the UK or in Switzerland, which are both too expensive for me. I was too focused on my study (and too lazy) to try to fight for a scholarship in either of these countries, so the natural choice was to remain at AM, where I already have a scholarship.

However, I am now realizing that I am not very happy with my situation. The truth is that my impression of AM is not very good. Whenever I discuss CS concepts with my friends/colleagues from AM, I can not help but notice that they are superficial and do not really understand the material. I often get this feeling even when I interact with the tutors (who are mostly Master's/PhD students, but also assistants). Sometimes, I even feel that some professors have embarrassing holes in their knowledge, although I must admit that most professors did not disappoint me. Don't get me wrong: I also met students that impressed me and that helped me stay modest, but it is frustrating to see how many of the AM (future) graduates are very shallow in their knowledge.

I think that most of my frustration is caused by the German system. It is almost trivial to be admitted to AM's CS program, and even though some filtering is done in the first study year, the pressure to produce many graduates clearly affects the quality of the teaching and of the... graduates. There are too many students. And, to be honest, it saddens me to see that many severely unqualified people get the same degree as I do. The only thing that officially separates me from them is the GPA, but I am not convinced that the GPA plays any serious long-term role.

Moreover, the fact that I only rarely came in contact with students that are "better" than me affects my motivation. All these years I only worked alone, and I am struggling hard to push myself to work constantly. My passion for the subject decreased. I became very good at perfecting the necessary work for the exam, and at perfecting the exam, but I feel that my creativity plummeted and that I am no longer as curious as I should be. I go through the concepts very thoroughly, but am not really interested to do more than that. I am working mostly because it's the thing that I am very used to do, but there is no longer any conscious will to do it. I am worried that it is only inertia that keeps me afloat. And now that my Master's at AM is about to begin, I am generally quite sad, which is ironic, because objectively my situation is not bad at all.

The truth is, I (maybe erroneously) fell under the impression that I deserve to be at a slightly better place than AM, and am now struggling to motivate myself to continue performing at AM. For me, Academia makes sense as a career option if I could do it at one of the top "teams", where truly influential research is carried out and where imposture is as low as possible. I know that such great "teams" can be found everywhere in the world, and am sure that AM also has strong departments, but I am still young enough to dream about going somewhere even better. And I struggle to see a clear path to get there.

I would be very grateful if any of you had the time to just comment what I wrote here. I do not really have a specific question, except "How should I assess my position?". I just want to hear the thoughts of someone that has a mature view on Academia.

  • 2
    You're about to finish your master's, and say you are objectively doing well, and you want to do research in a better place and in a top team, so why not apply for PhD positions in such places?
    – GoodDeeds
    Sep 21, 2020 at 23:06
  • 1
    +1 @GoodDeeds. Apply to places where there is great work going on, considering the fact that you aren't satisfied where you currently are. There are a lot of places in Europe as well, apart from Germany, Switzerland and the UK. There are very good institutes with great research in the Netherlands, Denmark, France, etc.
    – Jihadi
    Sep 22, 2020 at 3:26
  • Also, anywhere in the world where there are great teams with exciting research going on are not going to admit students easily. There is a lot of competition. You did say you were lazy to apply for a scholarship to study in the UK/Switzerland, You will have to work hard to strengthen your profile and get admitted.
    – Jihadi
    Sep 22, 2020 at 3:31
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    I am about to begin my Master's, not finish it. I am aware that I will be able to apply for PhD positions after I am done with it in two years. You did not really address my concern. I am struggling to find my motivation now, and am worried that I will not be able to excel during my Master's, as I did during my Bachelor's. It's not that I am not satisfied with my learning experience at AM; I feel that I can learn a lot here. But I am often underwhelmed by the fact that many other students are significantly below my level, which makes me worry that maybe I'm in the wrong place. Sep 22, 2020 at 8:27
  • 1
    @StrugglingStudent Sorry, I interpreted "Master's at AM is coming" as "I am about to receive my master's degree". I have edited the question to make it clearer.
    – GoodDeeds
    Sep 22, 2020 at 10:24

1 Answer 1


Here's just an outside impression. It doesn't look good to me that your motivation, your love for your subject, is affected by the fact that most students around you are weaker. Actually this is a situation in which "the best" regularly are, just by being the best. And if they are really the best, it will not drag them down. Why do you even care whether some others who are not as good as you also can graduate? You have stated that actually there are students and lecturers from whom you can learn, so stick to them.

I think you should not assign responsibility for your lack of motivation to fellow students or your institution. You have to ask yourself seriously whether what you do is right for you, and if it is, how you can change in order to keep your motivation up. (Of course it may be true that there are better universities and top groups, but if you are really cut out for doing something good in the field, you should be able and motivated to start doing that as long as you are still in the place you are.)

  • This is a good point. However, it still seems reasonable for me to lose motivation over the fact that I am very lonely in my work. The fact that I have no fellow students to discuss my progress with gives me the feeling that my exploration of the subject is somewhat irrelevant, and that nobody cares. Indeed, maybe a "truly" passionate student would not care about such dialogue with his peers, but I still believe that having someone to discuss the subject with is important. And being lonely makes me ask "How productive would I be at a top place?" Sep 23, 2020 at 17:21
  • Losing motivation is something psychological. It is not a question of what is "reasonable". If it makes you unhappy, it doesn't help you at all to find some reason for this in other people. You are responsible for your well-being, not your fellow students. I agree that it is good to have somebody to discuss, so what about asking a lecturer or professor for project work or special exercises, what about getting to know PhD students, what about online discussion forums etc.? Sep 23, 2020 at 19:17
  • Agree. And stick to the teachers you respect and discuss with them.
    – Mike Liu
    Oct 22, 2020 at 2:08

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