208

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 compare different athletes. Thus you need to: Shift the frame. Adjusting a bad frame: You are a PhD student who completed some regular college and an outsider ...


179

I found two practices helped me a lot: Reinforce what you know. The biggest problem with being an academic surrounded by other academics is that you're constantly being confronted by things you don't know. Even worse, it often seems like everyone else knows something that you don't know. You don't need me to tell you how demoralizing that is. The fight is ...


169

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 fully expect not just to be told that wheels exist but to be asked to think deeply about them so that you develop an understanding, at the deepest level, of ...


156

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 supervisor offered you a postdoc position after having you for 6 years as a PhD student, it means that they consider your work useful. You might be suffering ...


150

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 rest. It's perfectly acceptable for you to take a break. Many faculty have post-tenure slumps. Survivor's guilt: Many of your grad peers didn't get jobs, you ...


141

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. And there is always a large gap between what you learn in coursework and what you need for research. Trying to get better by just working harder or longer ...


138

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 centuries (for the math, at least) of research supporting the topic you're learning. Thinking you can "get to the bottom" of it in a few months, let alone a week or two,...


136

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 experts and they think you have what it takes to finish a PhD. No one gets admitted just because of their gender and/or race. It would be a waste of the ...


124

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 a different time zone). However, it is unreasonable to expect immediate response when you do so (more accurately, it is unreasonable to expect immediate ...


123

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 assist as well in creating a step-by-step program. If you are willing to handle the situation by yourself, you'll have to do "a few" things (which are a lot to ...


102

As an instructor, the best you can do is to offer your condolences and tell him to just ask you if he needs anything. For example, you could offer an extension on assignments. If he needs some time off from lectures, maybe a classmate who takes good lecture notes will agree to make a photocopy, or you could get the lectures to be recorded for him. Your ...


102

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 different strengths, and it's easy to mistake knowledge/experience for intelligence. At any rate I feel that my job is the opposite of competing with my ...


100

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 mentions about the pyramid structure of academia, as well as survivorship bias. Jack Aidley also nicely captures the difference that "In most careers you do not 'fail'...


98

It's hard to even think of a time when I didn't feel like an imposter. I would tell myself constantly that I was succeeding only due to luck, or having spent more time working as opposed to having any actual ability, or the fact that as an international student I had a very different background from my peers and therefore had an unfair advantage, and so on. ...


98

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 they can find any academic job at all, let alone one in a particular city.


98

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 sarcasm might work wonders. Manners are important, but it's not our job to teach the students manners - and they are rarely grateful for it, especially those ...


92

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 pay you, but the fact that you have an NSF fellowship may have changed the admission committee's perception of your ability, which could be what tipped the ...


90

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 lead to great profits. Your stipend is not contingent on your work delivering monetary returns; research doesn't work like that. You are engaged by them to apply ...


85

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 on the part of the student (sorry for shouting there). But fear can cause people to act badly. Don't overreact without more evidence.


83

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 work and are so passionate about it that it has that effect. It can be both a curse and a blessing (see the fantastic question linked to by jakebeal in the ...


78

Sometimes students behave childishly. They've only been adults for a few years, and some of them are still transitioning. In groups in particular, and with the anonymizing effect of the internet, immaturity can be amplified. The first thing to do, when faced with childish behavior, is increase the maturity of your own. Show them how childish they are by ...


78

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 to be, well, you can call it a failure, can't you? This is aggravated by the pyramid structure of academia, where there are fewer positions available for every ...


77

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 understanding relationships, not memorizing facts. If you don't know why something in mathematics is true, you really don't understand it. The proofs in mathematics are ...


75

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 what meeting rhythm your advisor has in mind? What often works well is a standing, weekly meeting. If you have no progress to report, that's okay -- it can ...


74

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 what is needed in order to earn a PhD (in a reasonable amount of time)? I see some things in your self-description that I recognize in my son, who has ADHD and ...


72

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 that a large fraction of published paper contains this type of error and does not have an erratum. Even a more serious error that invalidates some of your ...


70

Personally, I find that the following process works well for me: Complain together with my co-authors about the blindness and foolishness of reviewers, the sorry state of publishing, and the general existence of injustice in a world not ready for the pure angelic beauty of our work. Remember not to take this too seriously. Ignore everything for at least 24 ...


70

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 from anxiety. The exam begins with the student giving a brief elaboration of a topic of their choice (within the subject of the course). They can talk ...


67

The Harsh Reality: They Do Exist Before I met my roommate, I thought that I was one of the most intelligent people that I've ever met, pretentious, I know, but just being honest. When the material was upper-level undergrad or graduate level, I studied, but even at a top tier university, I got amazing grades with much less effort than most of my peers, which ...


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