Respected Academics, i hope you can help shed some light and hopefully provide some guidance.

To start off, i want to clarify that i love computers since a very early age. I used to game from a very young age and was quite fond of figuring stuff out on my own. Naturally, i was inclined to choose computers as a major for my studies. and i enjoyed learning a lot of the stuff, especially stuff i could relate to ( like how parallel processing was ultimately responsible for faster games on multicore cpus or how distributed systems make blockchains possible )

i just found most of the maths and some abstract courses to be really dry. Those courses often caused me to overthink and procrastinate in class alot. Needless to say, i felt a lot of anxiety within during class. However, some of the stuff does not seem too anxiety-inducing now that i have studied it and can explain it better to my non-computing peers. So i can't say what the anxiety was all about, but i felt it important to mention here.

To be honest, maths was not my favorite subjects in O'levels and it was not my strongest subject. However, i do like it when the equations and principles being taught in math eventually translated to real life applications or other engineering applications.

I just feel ashamed that i don't know a lot of the math or crypto. I also have trouble understanding the really difficult math equations or notations in research papers that focus on proofs, crytography or any kind of complicated maths. Sometimes, my attention span is my enemy as i cannot focus on reading papers and easily get distracted. It makes me wonder if i am even good enough for the Computer Engineering / Computer Science field.

I often feel like an impostor, masquerading as someone who knows things but in reality who has just surface level knowledge about topics and is not really an expert on anything.

I am a grad student (M.Sc.) currently, but i feel quite inadequate that i have not invented anything, have no patents and just a single publication to show for ( in which i am not the first author ).

I really like computers, i chose the field willingly. I even chose to go for a research career by my own choice (many people told me that there is much more money to make in industry) because i like discovering new things, i have a problem solving mindset, i often think of innovative stuff when i am alone & desperately need a solution to survive my studies and i feel that there is a certain level of madness ( craziness ?) in me that is aptly required for a researcher. It also feels so personally fulfilling when there is a problem that i solve after a long time of suffering, the high of it is incredible

I do feel closer to the application context of Computer Engineering / Science research ( like enabling the usage of disruptive tech for good social cause etc ) rather than the extreme mathematical aspect of it ( the lemmas and proofs we see in papers )

I just fear if my mathematical skills (or lack thereof) will be my doom or if they will eventually out me.

I eagerly look forward to your kind input

P.S : I forgot to mention, i really enjoy coding when there is good reason behind it ( e.g a project i like or something being at high stakes, like thesis or a semester project - but i often refer to language documentation and can't seem to memorize the syntax. I do enjoy self-learning programming languages and the logic behind them )

1 Answer 1


I am a graduate student in physics and I think I shared your situation when I was learning calculus in my first year of undergraduate study. At that time I have no idea what calculus can be used for, and the tedious proof is way too abstract for me to relate the math ideas with some specific stuff.

As I learn more in physics, I get to know the importance of math gradually. Most of the math concepts are actually motivated by realistic physical phenomena or applications. For example, the Fourier Transformation is spanned from the idea of Fourier series. But it's true: I didn't realize the underlying story of math stuff until I know its high-level story.

I still don't enjoy reading formulas and theorems, despite there are plenty of papers in my field that are more on the math side. How I deal with it is I told myself to try to relate the abstract math with specific ideas. I always ask myself: Can I, after reading a very math paper, share the idea with my colleagues without writing on the whiteboard in minutes? From my perspective, math is just a tool and language. I don't really care about the proofs and calculation details when reading papers as it costs me too much.

I believe CS and Physics are similar: Both the subjects focus more on the underlying ideas rather than the math stuff. You shall not assign too much weight to math capability in the way toward a good CS researcher.

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