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I started my MSc 6 months ago. I was supposed to work on an idea given to me by my supervisor to publish it in a conference. The problem is that I have been way too slow, I don't understand a lot of things and feel dumb. I am making lots of stupid mistakes, I work on something for a week and then it turns out I was working on something totally useless. I don't deliver anything to my supervisor because of not working wisely.

Because of that, my supervisor asked one of his PhD students to help me which he did. I did the bulk of work myself but he helped me with debugging etc. At the end of the day we made the submission and included him as co-author.

But the fact that I'm not that much independent makes me worry. I know that I'm a junior researcher and I know, I need to get help, nothing wrong with that. However, I feel I'm dependent on others' help more than I should be. How can I not make lots of stupid mistakes? How can I be more clever? Sometimes when I talk to senior PhDs in our lab, I wonder how I really can make these silly mistakes.

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    What are your thoughts on why this is happening to you? And how well prepared for entering graduate school do you see yourself having been? Feb 28 at 3:09
  • @Aruralreader Not that much, I was not that much ready for entering graduate school tbh. I'm trying to catch up however. I don't know why this is happening to me, maybe because I'm not ready that much. Feb 28 at 3:39
  • OP, if that’s the case, this awareness might prove helpful in guiding your next steps, and when discussing your situation with your advisor. Feb 28 at 3:44
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    How do you avoid stupid mistakes? By making stupid mistakes, getting feedback about them, and then learning from the feedback, so you don't make the same mistake again. Feb 28 at 10:56
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    The very fact that you came here and asked this question suggests you're more "independent" than you think. Hang in!
    – Raydot
    Feb 28 at 22:24

5 Answers 5

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People go to graduate school to learn how to become an independent researchers. If they already knew how to be an independent researcher, then they would not need to learn it and gradschool would be a useless waste of time and resources.

Just to warn you: the learning won't stop after gradschool.

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Wait and learn. You don't need to be independent yet and if you try to be you won't end up independent, you'll end up lost.

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I don't know what kind of school / program that is, but publishing a paper within the first year of your MSc sounds incredible to me! In Germany, no MSc student is expected to publish a paper at all - let alone without help from a supervisor or senior PhD student!

The first paper I published in my life was 9 months into my PhD program, and that was with lots of help from my supervisor / professor. The first paper I published without any substantial help from his side was about two years into my PhD.

The amount of time I spent working on ideas that wouldn't lead to results is certainly more than one week.

Unless you kept making the same mistakes over and over again during those six months, then I'd say you are not stupid. Your supervisor is setting incredibly high standards, and getting close to meeting them is already a good sign.

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I am going to stop you right here "I did the bulk of work myself but he helped me with debugging".

You sound like a very independent researcher to me.

If only more PhD students were as capable as you are. heck, a lot of new postdocs have difficulty doing the bulk of the work by themselves...

Now to address your concern that "you needed help to debug your work and to write the paper".

1st kudos for writing a paper that you submitted to a conference, that is very impressive.

2nd everyone needs someone else to provide a fresh perspective and look over their work to see what stupid things they missed.

3rd writing a paper for a conference is very different from writing regular papers in college. It is really hard. I know postdocs who still need help writing papers (that last bit of polish is hard). That you wrote one with a little bit of help from a PhD student says only good things about you.

It sounds like you are suffering a bit from Imposter Syndrome (look it up). Just want to let you know that it sounds like you are doing a great job. you deserve to be where you are.

Also, I want to let you know that you can talk to your professor, about your feelings/doubts etc.. Believe it or not your professor was once where you are right now. I think that its likely that your professor is pretty impressed with you.

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I think that, in your case, it takes time and patience. It is essential to learn from your mistakes. If you're working on something and find it useless, that's good. You are already researching for yourself. You find out what is good and what is not, what is useful and what is not. I think this is a good start for an MSc student. Many students of your level do not receive such assignments and do not work on them. So here you have a chance to get to know the world of science and the rules of financing and building prestige much earlier than others.

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