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,...


99

If your colleagues in the department—presumably also PhD students—don't understand the concept, either, it doesn't strike me that the question is truly "basic." That said, if your advisor is aware of your background, then he should know that there will be some things that might not be "obvious" to you. Now, in this case, you have already "done your ...


82

The situation is complicated so there is no simple answer. Over time you and your instructor(s) will have to work out a modus vivendi. From my point of view as a teacher, I want you to try to continue to ask. I find more students hesitant than persistent - and it's the persistent ones who force me to be clear. At the beginning of each semester and often ...


71

Your department defers to you as the final authority on the student’s grade, and for a good reason: because you are the only person who sees the full picture of the student’s performance and the context in which it was assessed. The department can give you high-level guidance and advice, but that is never a substitute for an instructor’s reasoned judgment ...


65

I started writing a post about all the things I like to do that the book doesn't: offer an intuitive overview, a fresh perspective on the basics, etc. Then I realized that of course, there's no reason that the book couldn't do these things. Most of them don't, but there's no fundamental reason not to. Everything I do in a lecture to help students see the ...


62

Pedagogical advantages: It is much easier to catch misunderstandings early and thus "rescue" an answer. After all, bad exam questions aren't that rare (bad as in: if the student has a very good understanding of the subject, they may be able to guess what topic the examiner has in mind). Misconceptions can be corrected: while a written exam gives a snapshot ...


62

I don't want the lecturer to feel like maybe they've done a poor job of explaining when perhaps I'm just not grokking an underlying principle. If you're not grokking an underlying principle, the lecturer has done a poor job of explaining.* ;) More importantly, though: Never lie about your level of understanding. Ever. If you don't understand, say so. ...


50

IMO, there is no ethical problem with students preparing for a course in advance. As Moriarty notes in their answer, what matters is that the student learns the material, not when or how they learn it. That said, there are (at least) two actual problems that your question touches upon: the occasional problem of advanced (or self-taught) students taking ...


47

Have you considered offering an Incomplete instead of immediately offering a pass or fail grade? This might be a compromise you could suggest which wouldn't automatically pass the student without the work being completed, while still allowing them the opportunity to complete that work and pass the class. Having been in a similar teaching situation this ...


40

Let me give you an answer in the form of an analogy. Say you head to a city in a foreign country where you do not know the language, have no friends, do not have a guide book, maybe just have a map, but most of the words are the local names, and you do not have an idea of what they all mean. Now you could look at that map and resolve to follow every ...


39

This is problematic for students who aspire for higher learning because much of the material or understanding is accumulative. Actually, that's precisely why it's not problematic. If you had to memorize random trivia, it would become more and more difficult as you had to remember more unrelated things, but academic studies work in the opposite way. ...


39

Consider the risk-reward tradeoff here. If you keep quiet and use the wrong interpretation of this "basic" concept, you risk spending the rest of your research time producing nonsense, because you did the equivalent of assuming 2 + 3 = 23. If you ask your supervisor, you risk looking a bit stupid for five minutes. The choice seems like a no-brainer to me!


37

First, for context, I'd disagree strongly with a too strict notion that "mastery" is required before "moving forward", for several reasons. It is easier to understand the purpose of something after one sees how it is used. It is all too easy to acquire a fake mastery that is not functional, but only refers to some artificial tasks created for a textbook, and,...


34

A student takes a course to prove he learned the stuff in the syllabus. He/she passes the course, and then has official certification that he knows that stuff. Who cares when he learned it? The trickiest part is keeping the course interesting for the high-flyers, without alienating the less able (or less knowledgeable) class members.


34

You are definitely looking at the wrong factor here. The question for you should not be "Should I solve the examples?", but rather "Do I understand the technique well enough to confidently apply it to my own research?". If the answer to the second question is yes, you don't need to waste your time on doing more examples. If the answer is no, you need to ...


30

My impression is that you see only two ways to react to asking a question and not "getting" the answer: (a) give up, or (b) repeat the exact same question once again (you talk about "asking the same thing over again"). You are right: I don't want to just say, "Yeah, I'm not getting it, so what now?" I feel like that would be so incredibly rude! That ...


29

First, social phobia is not a character defect. It is a recognized medical condition. You are not worth less as a human being if you suffer from a phobia. Next, depending on your school, you may be able to get a medical exemption from certain requirements. You may want to discuss this with your local student services. (By email if meeting people in person ...


28

Oral and written exams test largely different skill sets. Of course there is some overlap, but not that much. Some examples: In oral exams you can test the ability to explain things much easier than in a written exam. On the other hand, actual problem solving can be tested easier (and more efficient) in a written exams. In an oral exam you can watch the ...


28

If you are actually new to a topic then the papers on it are probably out of your reach. When I want to open a truly new topic I would start with the lowest level textbook I can get. Perhaps I find that a first year undergrad textbook is not challenging enough to be interesting, but its worth checking each chapter to see if there is anything new. If there ...


27

Audit the courses that you like, i.e., take them without receiving a grade/credit for it. You might not even need to formally audit courses, most professors will let you informally audit them. But as mentioned by others, research takes priority.


26

At some point in a research career you will need to learn directly from papers. Even as a practical programmer, when I wanted the absolute state of the art in an area, I would read academic papers, not wait for the material to show up in textbooks. A researcher often ends up knowing more about their topic than anyone else in the world, not just in their ...


26

Fundamentally, a researcher studying a different field "for fun" is in no other situation than anybody else studying "for fun". It's a hobby, just like reading, going to the theatre, or sports. Some engage in this hobby, some do not. Whether they "have time for that" is really the same question as whether they have time for any other hobbies - some do, some (...


26

Some of the exercises are very hard. That is expected. But it depends on how deep you want your learning to be. If you are happy enough with a superficial understanding, then just read the solutions. But if you want "operational" knowledge. The knowledge of how to put all of that to use and to extend it in your work, then you need to do a lot of ...


25

It depends enormously on your personal objectives, apart from your personal predilections. For example, if a significant goal is to advance your understanding of mathematics, then obsessing over exercises (many of which are contrived busywork in undergrad textbooks, and sometimes in grad-level textbooks in the U.S.) is a dubious investment of your personal ...


24

I wanted to put in a word that mathematics really is hard and takes time to learn. In particular, in my experience -- which is, I must say, almost exclusively with pure mathematics, but in many programs in the US the distinction between pure and applied only emerges later on -- relatively few first year math PhD students are reading papers independently. ...


24

Create something and learn in the process If I want to learn a new programming language or framework, maybe I'll do a quick tutorial but then I immediately have to find something useful and/or fun to do with it. There's no end to the knowledge that you can get on any topic, but if you don't do something with it, at some point you'll just stop. If you create ...


22

Intuitively, of course the answer should be yes. Surprisingly, however, in reality the answer is sometimes no. A common saying, which to the best of my knowledge has no known attribution, goes something along the lines of: "The fools didn't know it was impossible, so they did it!" To achieve a significant original scientific contribution, you need to know ...


21

I totally experienced the same thing both in academia (MSEE) and work life, especially early on: Life is not an academic knowledge competition, so no need to feel inadequate. There will always be people smarter or more knowledgeable than you in any specific topic/niche (see 6. below), with more letters after their name. Go for breadth-first, not depth-first ...


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