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226 votes

How do you come to terms with the fact that you might never be among the best in your research community?

If every swimmer were to compete with the latest 20 year old Olympic gold medalist, they would soon give up. That's why we have different leagues. They provide more relevant frames of reference to ...
henning no longer feeds AI's user avatar
173 votes

How can I counter a student response saying "Why are we bothered to reinvent the wheel when proving mathematical identities?"

Someone said:* When you reinvent the wheel, you end up learning a great deal about why wheels are round. And that is really the point. When you’re at university to get a degree in wheels, you should ...
Dan Romik's user avatar
  • 191k
156 votes

I'm feeling discouraged after getting tenure; should I quit?

Many faculty get post-tenure blues. There are several causes: Burnout: You've been running at full speed for almost 30 years (k-12; college; grad school; post-docs; tenure track). Your brain needs a ...
RoboKaren's user avatar
  • 40.4k
155 votes

I wasted six years of my life getting a PhD degree. What should I do, and how will I survive?

It looks to me like you did not do so badly as you think. Two publications and 3.7 GPA are not so bad. It might depend on the field, it might not be the best ever, but I have seen much worse. If your ...
wimi's user avatar
  • 8,500
143 votes

How to stop hopping the learning chain and actually begin somewhere?

Dan's answer is very good, and I want to add one more point: Accept that on the first pass you will not be able to fully understand the topic. Appreciate that there are decades and sometimes ...
eykanal's user avatar
  • 48.5k
139 votes

Where did I lose control of my studies?

Nothing you've described sounds like a serious academic problem. Taking weeks to understand a paper, and working on a problem for weeks without results, are entirely normal in research mathematics. ...
Nate Eldredge's user avatar
134 votes

I got accepted into a math PhD program but I don't feel adequate enough to attend

First off, congratulations on being accepted to the PhD. That means the faculty have carefully evaluated your application materials and decided that you are a promising young mathematician. They are ...
Thomas's user avatar
  • 18.4k
128 votes

How to deal with unnecessary stress introduced by the supervisor?

It is not unreasonable for a supervisor to write emails in the middle of the night. I do it myself, and frequently at that (sometimes because I am honestly just working late, sometimes because I am in ...
xLeitix's user avatar
  • 135k
127 votes

Postdoc overwhelmed by incomplete work

This is a well known problem - and depending on your personal situation you should consider getting professional help by a psychologist. It's not a shame and it might prevent further harm. They could ...
OBu's user avatar
  • 13.1k
107 votes

What makes academic failure different from failure in another career?

Many other careers are not structured around "success" and "failure" in the same way that academia is, and the jobs that are are acknowledged to be high stress. I agree strongly with what Anyon ...
cactus_pardner's user avatar
105 votes

How do really talented people in academia think about people who are less capable than them?

I wouldn't say I'm a 'top' professor - hopefully someday, heh - but here's my take on it. I couldn't care less how 'smart' my students are or aren't. It's tough to quantify, and different people have ...
trikeprof's user avatar
  • 4,631
101 votes

Is Relocating Necessary in Academia?

There are exceptions in some specific fields (for example accounting) where corporate jobs are much more attractive than academic ones, but, in general, an academic considers themselves very lucky if ...
Alexander Woo's user avatar
98 votes

Was my student being disrespectful by using shouting language in her email to me?

For a one-off or short-term rudeness, my policy is to respond with pure facts, served chilled. If you have a good instinct for delivering comebacks at just the right level, a hint (but just a hint) of ...
Captain Emacs's user avatar
96 votes

I feel bad about rejecting a paper during review

I decided to 'weak reject' the paper No you didn't. It is the editor that rejects the paper, or not. You merely provided input based on your technical expertise, which it sounds like you did in good ...
cag51's user avatar
  • 69.6k
93 votes

Stuck without progress working on thesis - worried about failure

Having worked with master's students in an applied research lab, I am fairly confident that you are not expected to come up with a solution that will dramatically change the production process and ...
AppliedAcademic's user avatar
91 votes

Is it normal to feel like I bought my way into graduate school after being rejected and then accepted when I was awarded an external fellowship?

From what I've heard the NSF fellowship is not an easy one to get, and having one seems to carry some sort of prestige. Sure, the program may have accepted you on the ground that they don't have to ...
Drecate's user avatar
  • 6,610
91 votes

Math Ph.D. does not know what to do with life?

Let me just comment on what you say towards the end, wich I believe is the root of your predicament. I hate being poor and lonely. I am approaching 30 without any relationship (even friendships). ...
henning no longer feeds AI's user avatar
87 votes

Why is my mood dictated so much by how well my research is going?

Does anyone else experience this? Yes, I'm pretty sure we all do to some extent, and that it's one of the defining characteristics of being a researcher that you get so emotionally involved in your ...
Dan Romik's user avatar
  • 191k
87 votes

Coworker hiding and stealing lab material

Escalate to your PI or the relevant ethics officer This is quite a serious situation that involves both loss of university resources and also hampering multiple researchers from their learning/...
Ben's user avatar
  • 69.1k
85 votes

Trouble finding job after disappointing PhD in India

You did a PhD in 5 years, published 4 papers and got an offer for a 2-year postdoc position in times where research funding decreases. Keep going, looks fine. Take some courses or workshops on topics ...
Mark's user avatar
  • 6,362
84 votes

What makes academic failure different from failure in another career?

I think the reason is simply that a lot of people go into academia with the, often unrealistic, goal of becoming a professor. No matter the circumstances, if you don't get to the point where you want ...
Anyon's user avatar
  • 26.7k
83 votes

Was my student being disrespectful by using shouting language in her email to me?

No, "shouting" in an email isn't "normal". And, yes, it might imply disrespect. But I think that, given everything else you say, it is more likely that it indicates extreme PANIC ...
Buffy's user avatar
  • 367k
81 votes

Is there a place in academia for someone who compulsively solves every problem on their own?

You ask if there is a place in academia for someone with your characteristics. I would like to answer a different question -- how can you channel your talents and disposition so as to get through ...
aparente001's user avatar
79 votes

How can I counter a student response saying "Why are we bothered to reinvent the wheel when proving mathematical identities?"

The student seems to have the misconception that mathematics is about "facts". Early education stresses elementary facts a lot, so this is pretty natural. But mathematics is about ...
Buffy's user avatar
  • 367k
78 votes

How should I consider a possibly rude reply from a potential PhD advisor?

He/she is probably very busy, and has repeated the same message probably N times. Also, we all assume students will find the required information by themselves. Nowadays, I find that students simply ...
Prof. Santa Claus's user avatar
76 votes

How to help reduce students' anxiety in an oral exam?

The following assorted suggestions stem from standard procedure at my department, which has a long-lasting experience with oral exams, and positive experiences reported by fellow students suffering ...
Wrzlprmft's user avatar
  • 61.4k
75 votes

My advisor said that I should be more modest, and we should meet more often. Should I tell him about my impostor syndrome? If yes, mail or personal?

My advisor sent me an e-mail that he thinks that I should be more modest and that we should meet more often. Your prompt answer: Sounds good! Nothing is gained by getting defensive. (Do you know ...
aparente001's user avatar
74 votes

How does an Erratum on one's own paper affect one's career as a researcher?

It will not affect you career. You'll be fine. An erratum is not a bad thing, per se. Errors happen, and if you fix them it's fine. The error you describe are totally normal and I would even guess ...
Dirk's user avatar
  • 38.4k
70 votes

Is Relocating Necessary in Academia?

Let's say you're completing your PhD in Underwater Basketweaving. If you're going to carry on in an academic career without relocating, you need two things to happen: first, the university needs to be ...
avid's user avatar
  • 20.6k

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