I'm doing a masters course at a different university than I did my undergrad (both in maths). I did well in my undergrad but now I'm finding it very difficult. The shock of the change is hard to cope with.

I'm not just finding it very difficult, but I get zero feedback: we don't have any tests and I was not able to make friends so I don't know how others are finding it. I'm starting to think that I might be an idiot.

  • How can I build some confidence in my abilities at the same time as I rush and struggle to keep up with the massive rate of new material I need to learn?
  • How might I get myself some reassurance that I can actually pass, or stop worrying about this so much? (I feel terribly guilty using so much money from my family to be here) It's possible that I don't really have a chance at all but knowing that would be fine.
  • 9
    You are not alone!
    – Paul
    Jan 19, 2013 at 19:52
  • Have you tried talking to your teachers?
    – Zenon
    Jan 19, 2013 at 19:54
  • 1
    I don't know what I would talk to them about, and my thoughts are very incoherent so it's hard to have a conversation about things.
    – user5648
    Jan 19, 2013 at 20:10
  • Did you try going to forums, QA sites, or just find people doing similar things in the world? Jan 20, 2013 at 5:50
  • @Leonpalafox, not other than this one. Any suggestions?
    – user5648
    Jan 20, 2013 at 11:22

3 Answers 3


Feelings of inadequacy are quite common when starting a new graduate program—you are surrounded by talented people (if they weren't, presumably they wouldn't be graduate students!), and there is often a big leap in expectations between the requirements of a bachelor's program and the corresponding graduate program, particularly if you're at a top program in your field.

As one of the commenters mentioned, talking to your professors or teaching assistants may be one good way to get help, or to get at least some reassurance about how you're doing. Depending on what your university or department provides, they may be able to provide you with resources to help you study or prepare for your exams. This might be as much as arranging a tutor for you, or as simple as providing you with sample exams from previous course offerings. If your department has a "graduate student council" or "society" or something like that designed to help out the students, then a lot of these may have already been collected by students from previous years for use by students in later years.

In general, though, don't get too discouraged. It is recognized by most instructors that graduate school is harder than an undergraduate, and the grading tends to match that view. There are very few graduate school courses that are not graded "on a curve"; otherwise everybody would have bad grades! (When the top score on an exam is 60/100, most schools won't let you fail everybody!)


I guess the level of undergraduate courses at your new university is higher than the ones at your previous univ. So it is better you audit some of the undergraduate courses or you study them by yourself. For example, if you have taken algebraic topology this semester you might need to audit general topology too or you maybe should study some advanced algebra as well. Ask the professors about the background necessary for master courses and how you can get this background.

  • 1
    I am a big advocate of auditing. While it may take more time out of your day, it can pay off enormously over time!
    – Paul
    Jan 20, 2013 at 0:30

My advice is to befriend a second year or older grad student. I was in the exact same spot as you are now and unfortunately for me, there was nobody there to help me (I am in a foreign non English speaking country, where people were anything but friendly).

I am in my 3rd in grad school and I have learned the following golden rules (the hard way).

  1. If you are not sure what is expected of you - ask as many people as possible. No one will come and tell you what you need to know. If you are not confident doing this in person, an email is also acceptable.
  2. If there is a problem you don't know how to solve, always approach the person you are going to ask, with a possible solution. Nobody is going to do your work for you.
  3. Grad school can be a lonely place. Find some colleagues to share the pain.

My lack of confidence was usually a direct result of the complexity of a certain task. Just because something seems too complex, doesn't mean that there is no solution. When I find myself in such situation, I like to step back a bit and clear my head. I usually go out with friends or do some sports. This should jump start your motivation.

Next step is to break down a task into smaller junks that are easy to swallow. I use a free web tool called Trello, it also has a smart-phone app and supports collaboration. Decide on a deadline for the big tasks and try to fit the smaller once into a schedule.

A series of small successes is relatively easy to achieve and can do miracles for your motivation and overall confidence.

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