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Grad school and problems with project and advisor

anonymausanonymaus Registered User regular
I am a graduate student in the sciences and I am having issues with my project and advisor, which is causing me a lot of stress. Currently, I am stuck on my project and I cannot seem to get past a hurdle that has kept me stuck the past several months. It is similar to what our group has done previously, but our new project is not working as expected, and though I have tried many different approaches from the literature, none have been fruitful. I am very worried because that we require a certain amount of publications to graduate, and at this rate with this project, I will not make it in time.

I have presented my work on this project, but so far I've just been told to get it done, and while I have made some progress, I have also been told to do more experiments for better publications. Recently, I have been getting e-mails for data, but all I can really report is the experiments have not been working. Other people have offered suggestions and I have taken them, but so far none have worked as they have with our other projects. I am incredibly frustrated, it feels like I am not accomplishing anything, and what I do accomplish, the goal gets moved back.

Right now I want to speak to my advisor with a summary of my findings and what about the experiment is keeping me from getting the data (What I think is wrong cannot be removed from the system). I am worried that I may be let go at that point and forced to leave the program. Ideally, at this point, I would like to be pulled off that project and move onto another project. For my degree, I have completed all my requirements, now I only need the research, so I would rather not move to another program.

What I really want is some advice for communicating with my advisor that I don't think I can accomplish this project, either because I don't have the experience, or getting the data may not be possible with this setup. If anyone has any experience dealing with an advisor I would also like to hear that. I have setup a counseling appointment and I am hoping that they can also offer advice.

Thank you for reading this and any advice anyone can offer.

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    EncEnc A Fool with Compassion Pronouns: He, Him, HisRegistered User regular
    What country are you in?

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    anonymausanonymaus Registered User regular
    Enc wrote: »
    What country are you in?

    I am in the U.S.

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    EncEnc A Fool with Compassion Pronouns: He, Him, HisRegistered User regular
    I'm not sure I understand. Why would your program drop you from dissertation if the research is going poorly?

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    mtsmts Dr. Robot King Registered User regular
    edited July 2017
    Are you a masters or phd candidate?

    as an academic in the sciences who has grad students working for him, here is what I would hope they would do if they were in your situation.

    put together a powerpoint. whether you give it or not, it will make you think about it in terms of a story.

    give a rough overview of the project and what you have so far in terms of data that has worked.

    make sure you have some sort of progression into what you are currently working on/trying to achieve.

    then go through what you have done with results
    do this in a way that shows you have thought about what was wrong

    ie. i did this assay to test for __. It didn't work how I wanted it so I tried changing this__ because the something (lit, other students, postdoc suggested I try )This did not work.

    repeat for what you tried and why you did it.

    Explain how you wanted to try to troubleshoot on your own but as you were not able to successfully get the results you want and you didn't want to waste more time/money/reagents etc, you wanted your PI's input. You were thinking this could be the issue but haven't been able to fix it.

    For me, I wouldn't be mad about issues. Things don't work all the time in science and I expect that. What I also expect is for you to learn from things and think about what could be going on and how you might correct. I would only be mad if you just repeated the same thing over and over without changing anything.


    Unless your adviser is an asshole, which hopefully you wouldn't want to work under one, he would understand. Just be able to explain your reasoning for things.
    There are always going to be setbacks, you just need to figure out the cause to get around them. Most are not project killers.

    Just talk to your adviser. Most of us are not going to bite your head off and unless you are communicating often, they might not know there is an issue.

    As far as publications to finish. Often that is not a requirement but more in place to make sure you are productive. Some projects take a while, but make a single good paper, others are short and easily published so you get a bunch of smaller ones. Your committee should be judging you on the work, not the amount of publications.

    mts on
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    EncEnc A Fool with Compassion Pronouns: He, Him, HisRegistered User regular
    Yeah, and in the off chance the guy is an unreasonable asshole you will have a student advocacy path to follow (probably by going to the chair of the program, then the college dean).

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    anonymausanonymaus Registered User regular
    Enc wrote: »
    I'm not sure I understand. Why would your program drop you from dissertation if the research is going poorly?

    That is true, but my advisor could drop me from the group. Without an advisor, I won't have funding, I can't do research, form a committee, or graduate.
    mts wrote: »
    Good advice

    Thank you for your input, I am a PhD student, I am a bit over halfway done with my degree. I really only have my research left before my thesis. I plan on making a presentation this weekend, they are currently out.

    For our group, our advisor won't let us graduate without a set number of publications, so getting that amount is important.

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    Fuzzy Cumulonimbus CloudFuzzy Cumulonimbus Cloud Registered User regular
    Never have I been more prepared for a thread.

    1) Research is 95% failure. Very little that you do will work in any way. But, each failure should teach you something about your project and what you might need to change. Get comfortable with failure.

    2) Your advisor is lame for pressuring you for data. I am going to guess you are in a bigger lab or one with a more senior advisor (or very junior).

    3) Your idea to talk to your advisor about what is going wrong is a good idea. This is called managing up. You must be able to manage up. If you do the troubleshooting and nothing works, then the project needs to be redesigned or someone (YOUR ADVISOR) needs to help you figure out some new goals.

    4) Your advisor may have publication requirements but ultimately the graduate school program you are in decides the actual requirements. Do you have an established committee? Start meeting with them and making good friends. There may come a day where you need to override your advisor to graduate and it is good to demonstrate to them that you are competent and engaged.

    5) Fail fast. This is key for research. Try several different approaches to work around the problem.

    6) If you get to the point where you have no pubs but you have a job lined up, the committee will frequently grant you the Ph.D. To be honest, publication requirements serve the PI and not the student (unless you are going into academia) and so they use it as a currency. If you have a good and solid dissertation, there is no reason why you can't graduate if you meet your program requirements.

    7) Begin keeping records of your meetings with your advisor, how often you meet, what you talk about, did the PI suggest things, did the PI listen as well.

    8) If you have bad hands at the bench, get some training, or shadow some other people. Do your routine experiments work? Then you probably don't have bad hands, you're just working on something challenging or the question you are asking is the wrong one. Sometimes it helps to come to terms with something not working.

    9) Advisors hate when you offer no solutions when something doesn't work. It annoys them and puts more of the intellectual burden on them and they can get testy. So having ideas for why it isn't working and a good presentation for what isn't working can really help/

    10) Are there senior postdocs in your lab that can help give you advice?

    If you can share the nature of your problem, the type of work, and so forth I can help you more. Feel free to PM as well if its too specific to be posted.

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    VishNubVishNub Registered User regular
    Man. Welcome to seven years of my life...

    As others have said, struggling alone and silently helps no one. Start with senior students and postdocs in your group -- they may have good advice on both the technical and career level. After you've spoken to them, make an appointment or whatever to talk with your boss. Start with the science and explain what you've done, why, what's happened, how you've tried to fix things, etc... then ask for advice going forward. Your boss may try to end the conversation there, but you also need to express your concerns about publications. They need to know that and work with you on a solution.

    Your advisor wants you to succeed -- even if they're being a dick about it -- because your success is shared.

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    ceresceres When the last moon is cast over the last star of morning And the future has past without even a last desperate warningRegistered User, Moderator mod
    My adviser was amazing, but he shared a grant with a professor who had a reputation for being just awful. Though in working on my adviser's part of the grant I had almost no direct contact with her, I took one of her classes and that was enough exposure to her methods for a lifetime as far as I'm concerned.

    And it seems like all is dying, and would leave the world to mourn
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    mtsmts Dr. Robot King Registered User regular
    anonymaus wrote: »
    Enc wrote: »
    I'm not sure I understand. Why would your program drop you from dissertation if the research is going poorly?

    That is true, but my advisor could drop me from the group. Without an adviser, I won't have funding, I can't do research, form a committee, or graduate.
    mts wrote: »
    Good advice

    Thank you for your input, I am a PhD student, I am a bit over halfway done with my degree. I really only have my research left before my thesis. I plan on making a presentation this weekend, they are currently out.

    For our group, our adviser won't let us graduate without a set number of publications, so getting that amount is important.

    I would have guessed you are a PhD in a tier one research school based on your advisers pub requirement. Though this makes me think he is more hands off so likely doesn't know you are having issues.

    I agree with Fuzzy, graduation is dependent on your committee not just your adviser. They want you to publish since it looks good for them, but on the flip side having a grad student there forever is not good as well. Sometimes ideas just don't pan out. if you can't fix them, you switch gears. That's science baby.

    My program the unwritten guide was 3 publications but that wasn't a hard number. Some people did that, others didn't. I had 2, I know others who got out with none (though I was pissed about that, I feel like you should at least have one). Ultimately you need to show productivity and answer a question. Bonus if you get published for it, though if it leads to a grant or something it is still good.

    It is not the end of the world if you switch PIs. In my graduate career, I had a good start with a publication before I even took my qualifying exam. A week after I passed my exam, my PI let me know he was leaving the school. I ultimately decided not to go with him, and had to find a new lab. From that I had to basically put together a research idea, propose it to someone and then run it which was really helpful since I essentially became a postdoc in terms of responsibility. I ended up with an amazing new project which has a ton of citations now and it ultimately reshaped my research interest. Even if your adviser dumps you, your program is not going to let you wash out. They are already invested in you.


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    anonymausanonymaus Registered User regular
    Thanks everyone for your replies, I just wanted to give an update on my situation. I have not been able to talk to my advisor since they are still away, I am hoping to meet sometime this week. I have assembled a presentation about this part of the project that has been an issue, what I have done, why I believe it has not worked, and what I intend to do find a solution. I feel a bit better having this organized. I'll give another update when I can finally speak to my advisor.

    Regarding getting help from others, I have a post-doc I can talk to, but this isn't really their area and they are somewhat checked out since he will be moving on soon. There are several more senior students I have spoke to, and they are as stumped as I am because this procedure worked on their material but is causing major issues with mine.

    From what I have heard from other students about switching, the university does not really have a good history when it comes to problems with advisors and switching PIs. I am in a fairly small field also, so I am wanting to avoid leaving any professors with bad feelings.

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    mtsmts Dr. Robot King Registered User regular
    this kind of thing is the exact reason I always suggest to people lookingat grad school to pick one where there are multiple possible PI's to work with

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    anonymausanonymaus Registered User regular
    edited September 2017
    Hello everyone, I just wanted to give an update on how it has been going.

    What's good: The problem I was having in my research looks to be solved. We purchased some new equipment and were able to get the results we were hoping for. It turns out that my methodology was fine, but we could not get the results we were aiming for with our old equipment. I have a good goal here with my project at least until the end of the year, and I was able to do some work towards a side project and got some positive results.

    What's not good: We recently published some work that I provided the material for, but I was not given a spot on the authorship that I feel I should be attributed. At best I would have been given a late authorship, but I would still like to have it on my CV that I was involved in this work. We had something similar happen with some work we were doing with our collaborators where our collaborator did not give proper authorship, and my advisor was furious at them. I was a bit caught off guard that I was not credited on this work, making it two papers total now I was not listed on between my advisor and our collaborator.

    I feel a bit hurt and I am not sure of what my options are without burning bridges, or if this will happen again. I am also frustrated for spending time making this material that I could have spent on research without a listing of authorship.

    There are several other things that are going on that are contributing to my stress, I plan on scheduling an appointment with a counselor to discuss them.

    In short, academia sucks, trying to take care of myself and get out when I can.

    anonymaus on
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    ceresceres When the last moon is cast over the last star of morning And the future has past without even a last desperate warningRegistered User, Moderator mod
    Is there another way to get that work on your CV? Can you cite it and then have a reference on hand to confirm?

    And it seems like all is dying, and would leave the world to mourn
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    tynictynic PICNIC BADASS Registered User, ClubPA regular
    edited September 2017
    Not really. Authorship is key, trying to take credit when your name is not on the paper would be considered very suspect. The most you could do would be to mark down the authors as formal collaborators.

    tynic on
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    ceresceres When the last moon is cast over the last star of morning And the future has past without even a last desperate warningRegistered User, Moderator mod
    edited September 2017
    D:

    That really sucks, on a personal level.

    ceres on
    And it seems like all is dying, and would leave the world to mourn
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    Fuzzy Cumulonimbus CloudFuzzy Cumulonimbus Cloud Registered User regular
    Ask upfront about authorship. You should get a reason why or why not you were or were not included. There are many reasons not to be included if you didn't contribute intellectually. But asking your PI will get you info on their publication policies and whether you really want to keep working for them.

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    mtsmts Dr. Robot King Registered User regular
    yea authorship sucks. it happens. honestly there is no good way to really bring it up as everyone has different ideas as to what 'deserves' a line. Ultimately it is up to the writer and/or the senior author. Be glad it wasn't a first authorship

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