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My advisor apparently thinks I am slow

  1. May 7, 2007 #1


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    So, something somewhat disheartening happened to me. I was hired as a part time REU student (research experience for ugrads) in the middle of january and have been in the lab for about 10 hours a week, and I hope to work there full-time over the summer. I feel like I do good work even though I haven't been there much (only 10 hours a week) but I put in extra time (I don't get paid any overtime since my stipend is only for 10 hrs/week).

    I was sitting in my office one day and I overheard one of the assistant profs asking the lab admininstrator how "the new REU was doing", which is me. She replied that my advisor thinks I am a bit slow...I wasn't eaves dropping or anything....they just didn't know I was right down the hall and said it rather loudly (I am not in the office that often, really, so they didn't think I was there...). That's the only part of the convo I could make out. What does 'slow' mean, exactly. Mentally slow? Slow to accomplish tasks? Both? How should I handle this? Should I tell my advisor to feel free to be a little more critical of my performance since I like the feedback? Perhaps the questions I ask him are what he considers stupid, and this gives him the impression that I am slow. I am really not sure how to interpret this.

    I am also afraid this will affect any letters of rec I ask him to write me. I know my advisor will keep me onboard even in the summer since he seems like too nice of a guy to get rid of me, and he is always talking about what he is going to have me do in the summertime.

    I don't think I am 'slow'. I think it's more of an issue of me just trying to learn an incredibly complex experimental field in such a short time span, and me being the type of person that likes to understand things at a very deep level. Also, his english isn't the best and his accent is rather strong, so it is hard for me to understand what he is saying sometimes.

    What do you think of all of this? What should I do? I consider myself a smart person, even if things don't make sense to me immediately sometimes and I would hate for my advisor to think the contrary. I suppose I have said a couple stupid things, and asked a stupid question or two, and perhaps did stupid things in the lab, but who doesn't? I don't think this necessarily means I am a stupid person....
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  3. May 7, 2007 #2
    Slow probably meaning it takes you longer than other students he had to either grasp concepts or maybe they didn't ask as many questions.

    I ask a lot of questions myself to make sure I do exactly what they want and there isn't any miscommunication rather than just assuming thats what they wanted.
  4. May 7, 2007 #3


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    So 'slow' isn't necessarily 'stupid', right? I guess it might take me longer to grasp things, but I will say that once I grasp it I am better at it than the people that grasp it immediately, and I understand it more completely.

    But, 'slow' to me sounds like a bad thing, regardless. It's pretty frustrating to know your boss doesn't think highly of you, yet doesn't discuss it with you in person.
  5. May 7, 2007 #4


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    Also, this professor is new and has never had any other research students working for him before.....I am his first....ok, well, he did have a PhD student under him for a while.

    He also doesn't teach classes....all he does is research.
  6. May 7, 2007 #5
    Whatever you do I wouldn't confront him about it since it will put him in a really bad position... Just take it with a grain of salt and keep doing your best, after all, thats all you can do. I think we all do dumb things sometimes whether it is due to lack of sleep or daydreaming or whatever.

    Maybe give it a week and then ask him how you are doing.
  7. May 7, 2007 #6


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    I wasn't going to confront him about it....I was just going to tell him to be more open about my performance with me, and be more critical of me since it will help me in the end....I wasn't going to mention this specific comment he made to the admin.

    It is just dissappointing to me that I came in there quite ambitious and 16 weeks later the general consensus is that I am 'slow'. I also haven't accomplished much of anything since my advisor doesn't really give me anything to do...I have learned a lot though.
  8. May 7, 2007 #7
    You could try "fishing" details out of him. I think your idea of asking for criticism is a good one. Tell him that you are always trying to improve your performance, and that you would really appreciate any feedback he has for you. Once he gives you some advice, follow it immediately and to the letter. Show him you appreciate his feedback, that you are learning from him, and that you are capable of following directions and obtaining results.
  9. May 7, 2007 #8
    Just a random thought: you could directly ask him what he thinks of your performance thus far (obviously without clueing him in that you heard the conversation). It's fairly typical for students to ask their professors to assess their work, so this might be an innocuous way to find out what he meant by "slow."
  10. May 7, 2007 #9
    Also you may want to be careful because I am guessing lots of prof's read this forum. :tongue: (and yes I agree with arunma/maxwell, ask him about your performance in a discreet manner :-p)
  11. May 7, 2007 #10


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    Interesting. I will ask him for some criticism tomorrow.

    I also have to give a presentation on what I've learned and worked on on Thursday, so this might give me a chance to demonstrate that I understand what's going on (assuming I do a good job on the presentation....)

    Also, I am doing a practice run tomorrow in front of my advisor. My advisor insisted I do this practice run with him....could this imply that he doesn't have much confidence in me, or is this type of practice run fairly typical?
  12. May 7, 2007 #11


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    Well, I did not give any specific details about the professor, and my username is rather anomymous.

    I also think that when I start in the summer fulltime I will be much more focused on the REU, since I will only be taking 1 credit.

    My advisor still spends a lot of time with me explaining things and discussing things with me, so it hasn't gotten to the point where he feels I am a lost cause yet. :tongue:
    Last edited: May 7, 2007
  13. May 7, 2007 #12


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    Also, given that I actually am slow, does that mean I cannot lead a successful career as a physicist in academia? It seems like being quick witted and sharp (often times I am) is a necessary asset for a physicist.

    However, I still contend that I am a bright person.....my classmates and friends consider me the smart one. I am the one people always want to study or work on hw with, and during social meets I am considered the 'smart one'. Perhaps I just don't retain this trait in the lab...maybe I am just not confortable in the lab yet.....
  14. May 7, 2007 #13


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    didnt they say einstein was slow as a student?

    besides, in my career, the most successful people long term have not been the quick ones, but the persistent ones.

    i.e. tortoises as opposed to hares.
  15. May 7, 2007 #14


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    Yes, I believe Einstein was considered slow in his younger days, and also failed the entrance exam for university.

    And I still feel kinda dissappointed that my advisor thinks I am slow, even if it doesn't keep me from having a successful career.
  16. May 8, 2007 #15
    I'm slow. It's usually because I think everything over way too much. I will branch off on a homework problem and contemplate all kinds of subtleties and nuances. I'm also usually the only one who spots errors in text. And then when I think I spot an error, I'll try to write a proof to convince myself that I'm correct. I remember once on a physics test, I thought I spotted an error. But before I asked the teacher, I took the time to write a proof that the error actually was an error.

    These things take time. :) I also have to admit it's a little nutty on my part.

    I can see how such over-contemplation would be a disadvantage in a setting like a lab.
  17. May 8, 2007 #16


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    ha, this was definitely a disadvantage when I took ochem lab.
  18. May 8, 2007 #17

    Just don't care. Nobody is perfect. Students and young people like you are changing very fast. Within a few years you will be very different from many points of view. This remark really doesn't matter.

    But this does not mean you could slow down ...
    Maybe you should be a little bit more active ...
  19. May 8, 2007 #18
    join the club :rofl:
  20. May 8, 2007 #19
    I'm going to be the first one to suggest you kick the prof's ass.
  21. May 8, 2007 #20


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    If there's a specific deadline -- or you're employed short-term -- then it's better to not understand "things at a very deep level" but rather to grasp the basics, get on with the job, and pick up the more complicated parts as you go along.
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