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Stupid mistakes January 24, 2012

Posted by mareserinitatis in gifted, physics, research, societal commentary.
Tags: , ,

I used to be one of those people who beat myself up whenever I found a mistake I’d made.

Okay…who am I kidding?  I still do that.

In fact, I just did it.  I’ve been sitting here for about 2 days, trying to figure out why something I was programming wasn’t scaling correctly.  I was trying to add a little bump to something big…but my bump was a lot bigger than the stuff I was adding it to.  When I finally found the problem, it turned out that my scaling factor had been multiplied by the big thing, not the bump.


First and foremost, this is why I can’t code at 11 p.m. when I’m about ready to pass out.  These things happen a lot more often.

However, the bigger issue is that my automatic reaction to these things is that I must be really stupid to make a mistake to begin with.  I’m trying to train myself out of that particular thought process.  I try to think instead that I’m obviously not stupid or I would have taken what I did and run with it.  Instead I did notice there was a problem and I fixed it.

This is particularly important when you’re doing simulation work.  I found this out working on my master’s thesis: if you see a problem with your results, dig into it immediately.  Look at everything and make sure that no numbers are off.  This is where the notion comes from that you should have a good idea what sort of results you expect before you get them.  Now, that won’t always happen.  And, in fact, getting results that are ‘off’ is sometimes good as it can lead to new areas of research.  However, more often than not, it can also be a result of bad input.

I’m not sure where  this comes from, although I have some rather perfectionistic tendencies.  I also believe some of it comes from the fact that, as a kid, I was often ahead intellectually of where I was placed academically.  I was able to get everything right, so I always assumed that being smart meant getting things right all the time.  If I got things wrong, I never was told that maybe I just needed to be more careful or slow down or spend more time on something.  I’d been told that I got things right because I was smart…leading me to believe that when I got things wrong, I must be stupid.

Now, however, I try to remember that it’s not as important to get it right the first time as it is to be able to find my mistakes and correct them.  Therefore, I need to check over my work thoroughly, and when I’m done with that, I should have someone else check it over.  (I’ve often found, though, I’m more likely to find my own mistakes than others because I know what I’m looking at.)  What would be stupid is to not correct the mistake or to not identify it when it’s glaringly obvious.  Still, I find the impulse is there to berate myself for making a mistake to begin with, especially when I’m short on time (which is always).


1. NJS - January 27, 2012


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