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Making stupid mistakes during research - ettiquette

  1. Aug 13, 2012 #1
    making stupid mistakes during research - "ettiquette"

    Hi, I have been doing research this summer, and I have been making a lot of stupid mistakes that my adviser has to correct me on. For instance, a graph does not go to 0 where it should due to a preceding function w/zeros, different math engines produce different plots of a wildly-spiking function, etc. I feel like I keep making the same stupid mistakes over and over. Two questions,

    1) is this "standard" and "expected" from an adviser? I am feeling pretty stupid when he has to correct me. There are some pretty basic things I fail to notice. Am I irritating my adviser?

    2) how can I train myself to stop making such stupid mistakes and pay closer attention to detail? I want to take bigger and bigger leaps in my research "independently", without my adviser's guidance.

    Thanks, everyone...
  2. jcsd
  3. Aug 13, 2012 #2


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    Re: making stupid mistakes during research - "ettiquette"

    When things like this happened to me, my advisor would remark "An expert is someone who's already made all the mistakes once."

    Of course it's expected that you make mistakes, if you didn't, then you would already be at the level of the senior research personnel. The important thing is that you learn from them. Just try to be diligent in thinking about what you're doing, reviewing it before you present it, etc.
  4. Aug 13, 2012 #3
    Re: making stupid mistakes during research - "ettiquette"

    I think the trick to #2 is DON'T STRESS! I worked as system admin at a credit union with a mentor who would consistently make me feel like an idiot, to the point where I stressed out about making mistakes so much that I started making them even more. And then my heart would drop as soon as I discovered them and felt awful about telling him about it.

    I would expect frequent corrections, especially if you're still undergrad. Like Nabeshin said, you're bound to make mistakes, and your mentor likely made similar ones. The question is: is your mentor at least being nice about it? If you find your mentor becoming increasingly frustrated, it might be his problem more than yours, and you might want to have a chat about it.

    When I finally talked to my mentor about my faults, I flat out told him, "You make me feel like an idiot." He swore up and down that he didn't believe I was, but that he was a little worried that I was making the same mistakes over and over again. He had an interesting personality and was under tremendous stress of his own, which led to treating others without much respect. It might help to talk to him, because he might say something along the lines of, "You're doing awesome, keep it up!" In terms of reviews and overall praise, I found out I was doing very well in my job and that it was my own fear and bad treatment getting in the way.

    So the main thing I learned from that experience is to be open about the fears and challenges you're facing. Your mentor may be able to find something you need to work on, or books that may fill any holes he recognizes.
  5. Aug 13, 2012 #4


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    Re: making stupid mistakes during research - "ettiquette"

    Re#1, I think it helps if you display/show a willingness to correct the mistakes you

    make by, e.g., not making the same mistakes repeatedly. Re #2 , you may think

    about presenting your research verbally to friends/colleagues: in trying to do this,

    you will often be able to tell if there are holes in your understanding. Even

    explaining things to yourself can be helpful, if you can find no one --or try doing it

    online, without giving away any possible secrets.
  6. Aug 13, 2012 #5


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    Re: making stupid mistakes during research - "ettiquette"

    Well we can't tell if you are irritating your advisor or not, but one of the things a supervisor has to accept when he or she takes on a student is that the student will need a certain level of mentoring.

    It's also worth keeping in mind that research isn't like coursework where if you've received less than 100% you've done something wrong. You're going to get feedback on what you do and not all of it will be of the "great job, thank you for blessing my lab with your presence" type. Critical, constructive feedback is one of the cornerstones of the student-supervisor relationship.

    I would advise not to worry too much unless your supervisor specifically makes an issue of your performance. It's time to worry when you're called into the office and your supervisor tells you you're making too many dumb mistakes and need to pay more attention to your work. Of course, if you're really having trouble sleeping over this, you can bring it up yourself. Soliciting specific feedback is one of the quickest ways to get it.
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