This will be my first semester in an applied math lab. After spending a couple of years taking all theoretical math courses, essentially working in isolation the entire time, and finishing a thesis, essentially only interacting in person with my advisor, I will now be part of a group doing some experimental work for a semester. We are expected to write journal-style papers (not too long, less than 10 pages), following a journal of the professor's choice.

I found this setting to be extremely uncomfortable. I felt that I was the only one who had to ask things such as, "what is viscosity?."

What are some tips to overcome this feeling of holding myself back from having an active dialogue with my lab professor? How did you guys do it, when you first started at a lab? I feel utterly inept with interacting in a group setting.

The professor is super cool and very informal and speaks very intuitively, so as not to scare off the first-timers, I think.

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    Take your time and listen. Given that you are new to applications, you probably will have a lot to learn. Write down a list of things you do not understand, sort them by priority, ask the most important 1-2, google the rest until you get a feeling how the group works. Jan 28, 2017 at 1:26
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    What do you feel the root problem is? Is it that you are shy socially with lab members, or just academically? If it's the latter, then your lab must be applying math to some topic, so start reading to get a general idea about the non-math topics. Over time you'll start to speak fluently in your research area.
    – Steve
    Jan 28, 2017 at 6:02
  • My answer to this question on shyness might give you some pointers. Other answers there, as well, of course. Introversion in academics is quite common.
    – Buffy
    Mar 4, 2019 at 21:32

1 Answer 1


Since you are asking about viscosity, there must be some kind of fluid dynamics in your lab. Schaum's Outline of Fluid Dynamics is quite useful as it has worked out problems.

If you have actively avoided all social situations, never asked a question in class, or even had lunch with a fellow student, then perhaps you need to investigate resources at your institution to help overcome your extreme shyness. This will be a significant problem for you in the future - regardless of whether you stay in academia - if you don't take care of it now. Don't wait until you get older.

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    You're probably right about fluid dynamics, but "viscosity term" is sometimes used in mathematics to mean a term inserted into a differential equation to improve the behavior of the solutions (e.g., to prevent the formation of shocks). In fluid dynamics, such terms arise from genuine viscosity, but the terminology is used more generally. (After getting well-behaved solutions by means of artificial viscosity terms, one can let those terms approach 0 and hope that the solutions approach something meaningful.) Apr 4, 2019 at 2:03

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