So I'm a current PhD student in applied math. My interests have somewhat gravitated over time so I feel like I'm constantly in new territory and constantly struggling to understand the papers I read. I'm always questioning the ideas I have for research, since in my experience my ideas have often been 1) done by someone else or 2) misguided/wrong.

I know I still have a lot to learn, especially about the "big picture" of my relevant field(s) and basic principles of research, and will probably find more specific problems that I understand. But at this point in my career, I should already be there, right? (Almost finished with my second year of PhD and still haven't published, though I have some projects that can hopefully become papers.)

It's difficult to imagine a state of research where I have my own niche and can churn out publications like I've seen some people do. I don't even like the idea of settling into a niche too snugly, as I like to move around and learn new things.

From more mature researchers, does this feeling of confusion and struggle ever diminish, or is it just an inevitable part of the work?

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    What you are experiencing is normal. The worst thing you could do is to give up. It is ok to take a break, and then come back to the 'battle'. You'll find that it will get easier as you start to see familiar concepts and your way around the literature. Also, there will be less info overload as you pick up more knowledge and skills. Feb 19, 2021 at 3:19
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  • Thanks, i's good to know I'm not alone. However, my question is a bit different: I'm asking whether this feeling goes away as one matures in a field, or whether even mature researchers are still surrounded by things they don't understand (obviously depends on the research style, whether they prefer to evolve their interests or stick to a niche but I'm assuming most people evolve somewhat)
    – 900edges
    Feb 19, 2021 at 14:09
  • An inquisitive, wandering mind is a curse and a blessing. You’ll want to recognize it and balance it with the focus you’ll need to launch your career successfully. Mar 28, 2021 at 15:46

1 Answer 1


Pretty much any activity gets easier with practice. Research is no different.

I suggest that as research gets easier for you, you should get more ambitious.

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