I am a physics undergrad in India, about to graduate in a month or two. Now, I love my work and the research method, and love to read about things from many different perspectives to give myself a broad view of stuff, but I just don't feel like my current work ethic and habits are aligned towards being a competent researcher.

For physics specifically, I have read in a number of places that doing problems is the only way to become good at something, but then I have friends of my age who have studied things like quantum field theory, particle physics etc. from a number of books and they do not seem to be giving a lot of importance to problem solving; just understanding stuff from a big picture is enough they say. I have a strong suspicion towards that last line though.

In general, what are the certain no-no's which have a 100% chance of hampering our growth as a researcher (specifically in physics and mathematics) while we are still undergraduates?

On the other hand, which habits do I must have, which are 100% guaranteed to help me in the long run? I do not mean quick fixes, I mean habits that develop slowly but are worth the time and effort.

Any help is appreciated.

  • 1
    From my personal experience, I think it would be wise for you to pursue undergraduate research opportunities as much as possible. While classes and textbook learning are important for laying the foundations, there are certain skills and habits that you won't develop just by reading books and solving pre-packaged ("canned") exam-style problems that are designed to be solved in a short amount of time.
    – Superbee
    Jun 28, 2021 at 16:23

1 Answer 1


Nothing is 100% guaranteed in life.

Note that "studying" is not the same as "learning". Your process of doing a lot of problems is a good strategy to learn. Especially if you are getting feedback on your solutions. Reinforcement and feedback are keys to changing the brain (i.e. learning).

But to be a researcher, the one indispensable trait, I think, is curiosity. If you don't have that it is almost impossible to succeed in research. Ask a lot of questions. Evaluate the answers. Think about what questions might be asked, but haven't been.

Many (not all) researchers have good work habits and are methodical. Many are persistent in their work. But, IMO, curiosity rules all. And having fun with it is even better.

Personal note: When I was a youngster my mom thought I was a pain because I asked so many questions: why, why, why... When I started graduate school, my fellow students thought (probably incorrectly) that I was brilliant because I asked so many questions in class: why, why, why...

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .