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I got my PhD earlier this year. I have been productive during my PhD, published 4 papers during my 5.5 years duration in decent journals. My advisor was not an expert in my area of research, so my research ideas, methodology and analysis were completely isolated endeavour. This helped me become independent researcher but it also made me seriously unconfident in my technical know-how and research abilities.

My PhD was on a different field than my Masters and Undergrad degree. I took some courses to come up to speed, but I did not do many of the necessary courses because I thought I could self study them. I did self-study, but since I did not give exams or diligently solved many exercises in the book, I have a gap in the understanding of the core fundamentals of my field.

For example, one of the course I had to self study was numerical methods. I read the theory, made notes, did some exercises. But only retained a part of the subject because I had to add Newton-Rapson method in my code, so I just remember that.

Similarly, another course was Finite element method. I read the theory, made notes, did some exercises. But only retained a part of the subject because I did not have to develop FEA codes in my research. I used an opensource solver and focused on getting results for my research.

All these half-baked fundamentals made me realized that I am not equipped well for a career in research. I get overwhelmed when I start to revisit the fundamentals now. I feel I missed my chance when I should have studied more seriously and asked for help for the topics I was facing difficulties.

I had so much time in PhD to improve my knowledge and technical knowhow. After PhD and during postdoc, I am finding it harder to concentrate as I have to produce results at a much faster pace than my PhD and I cannot dedicate time to study and develop fundamentals. How to address this knowledge gap after a PhD?

Please don't say its imposter syndrome. I am just asking on how to improve technical/fundamental knowledge outside a university environment? Because, I feel it is not possible to gain deep understanding about a subject without the university/classroom setting.

I am really troubled and am worried about my career prospects. I have been looking for jobs in industry and at the moment I am not getting responses. So the postdoc position I am in currently will support me for the next year. However, I have to find something till then. If I don't have confidence in my abilities, none of this would matter. I would not be able to get a job.

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  • I have no doubt someone will point out to you "Welcome to the Bigs!" May 12, 2021 at 20:47

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While I'm not convinced it isn't just imposter syndrome, I'll also assume that you know something about it already.

However, you sound as if you know how to get the job done in research, focusing on what is needed to perform well. It isn't necessary, of course, to know everything before you start a project. Little would get done if that were true.

However, note that the situation has changed. In grad school and maybe in the post doc you were surrounded by a support system of people that you could bounce ideas off of and get feedback. The more independent you become the less automatic that is. So, I suggest that you try to reproduce that environment virtually by forming (or joining) a circle of collaboration.

A lot of very productive people maintain relationships with their former advisors and become part of that person's network. They invite others to come and speak or they go elsewhere to speak (and meet and collaborate).

It is very difficult for most people to do serious research in a vacuum. A few can manage it, but the collaborative network is a much richer environment for the generation and testing of ideas.

It doesn't have to be a classroom. You can take a much more active role.

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It seems you've focused on speed, both in research and in your education, passing by the formative knowledge building which simply takes time, concentration, depth, discipline. Maybe to get moving focus on things that don't involve too many of your gaps, and, over time, take the time to fill in a few. I have no doubt there are plenty of interesting corners of your field you can dive into.

One trick that's worked for me is cobbling together lecture notes for a course I'll never give. You end up teaching yourself, developing a deeper understanding. What I suspect though is that you see all the things you don't know, but somehow everyone else on the planet does, and you feel a bit overwhelmed. Let it pass, just dig in.

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