Whenever I meet my advisor and interact with him, in class or otherwise, I can't help feeling intimidated. I feel scared of the fact that I may fall below his expectations, and I become tongue-tied and mind frozen even though I know stuff.

How can I avoid this? Is this common at this stage? (I am an undergrad and just beginning research.)

  • 13
    Who is your "guide" - a teacher, TA, someone else? Also, can you explain why you feel intimidated? Does he always say that you should know more than you do? Does he imply you are unqualified for the task?
    – earthling
    Commented Jul 31, 2014 at 6:12
  • 5
    Sounds like this might be a case of imposter syndrome.
    – Moriarty
    Commented Jul 31, 2014 at 6:46
  • 8
    Must this be a negative? Perhaps you can spin it the other way: interacting with this individual is a good opportunity to learn how to interact with others. Assuming s/he's a very smart person and just making you nervous because of the intellectual gap (and not because s/he is a jerk), my advise is to go with it and learn from it: (1) think before you speak; (2) come prepared; (3) don't be afraid to admit you don't know; (4) don't fake it.
    – Teusz
    Commented Jul 31, 2014 at 9:44
  • 2
    country has a huge effect through culture. it would be useful to know where this happens. Commented Jul 31, 2014 at 16:37
  • Edited to replace guide with "advisor" - feel free to replace or revert.
    – RoboKaren
    Commented Aug 1, 2014 at 5:05

2 Answers 2


I think this is a typical syndrome for young students, or those students who have massive respect for their Professors or Teachers.

Usually the students consider their Professors to be superior to them; In addition to this the student might have some expectations in the future from that guide, trying to impress him all the time, so he is rewarded later on.

The way to solve this is to have more communication with that person and after all realize that he is a regular human being, who sometimes in the past used to be a student, and most probably was intimidated by his guide.

As you get to talk interact with your guide the Myth that you have in your head about him/her will start to get into the frames of normality, and the intimidation will go away after a while.

Long story short: he is a human being as well

  • 1
    There has to be a "cultural spin" to this. As someone from India, although now I have a PhD, I still "fear" my supervisor because I was always taught that my "superiors" have power over me. As hard as I may try, I cannot shrug this off. In some cases this feeling of "being intimidated" may be ingrained culturally? I am open to discourse on this.
    – dearN
    Commented Aug 2, 2014 at 18:45
  • 1
    Yes in such a setup, I believe that you can experience that feeling. Although, I was a foreigner at the institution were I studied, the main source of my intimidation was not the fact that I was the foreigner, rather the dependencies I had from my supervisor. Once those dependencies went away, I could communicate freely, to the point of objecting ideas and declining job offer Commented Aug 2, 2014 at 22:47
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    by dependency I referred to: financial, in the sense that you might be employed by him. Another thing which I though of when using dependency was the hope of getting a position under the given Professor. That is a dependency as well because ultimately it is up to his will to decide whether he want to accept you in his research group or not Commented Aug 3, 2014 at 10:48
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    I am also facing similar problems and agree it has a large cultural spin to it. I completely agree with Wolfgang, the initial fear is due to dependency, not only financial or legal, but the fact that your guide will probably write you recommendation letters, and suggest problems and projects, and you may not be in a position to pose your own problems. So you need to make sure your advisor is content with you though you may not necessarily agree with him on things such as research methodology.
    – user2734
    Commented Aug 3, 2014 at 15:13
  • 1
    @ramanujan_dirac +1 for bringing up the recommendation letter stuff Commented Aug 4, 2014 at 7:28

I agree with the answer by Kristof, just to expand on their suggestion to get to know the person. I would take extensive notes in class, read the book, and come up with a lot of questions. I would try to answer them on my own, but some of them I could not, even after more than one try (this is pretty important).

I would then go to the professor's office hours and ask the questions, that I had previously written down. This built up a rapport, let me ask intelligent questions without having to rely on being confident and eloquent because I was initially nervous, and also helped me learn the material.

I'll be honest: with some professors I never got over being nervous. But to a person, they remembered me, respected me, and helped me get into graduate school because they saw that I cared enough to read over their lecture notes, the text books, and to write down good questions to bring them to their office hours.

Confidence comes with time, sometimes not until graduate school or you are a professsional in your field, frankly. What is important is gaining competence, and knowledge, and experience. With those, confidence will follow.

Good luck!

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