A really steep learning curve and I'm stressed :( Help!

posted
12-Feb-19, 14:12
edited about 1 hour later
Avatar for orchid11
posted about 9 months ago
Hi I hope you forgive my ranting but I just need to write this and try to get it out of my mind. I've been into my PhD some months now in a new country, and have been so far taking some courses. I started a first ever experiment for the project as required and it was big scale experiment and at the end of the process I screwed up. I felt quite ashamed and disappointed at myself, haven't really recoverd from what happened. Luckily my professor managed to find a solution and things will be going as planned, just delayed by some days.

The field I am working at for my PhD is very new to me and I have no prior experience with the lab techniques yet. I haven't even been to the lab to tryout the machines. To be honest, I felt very overwhelmed when I started my first experiment, as there were no rooms for mistakes for this which made me even more stressed. I am now expected to know how to proceed with the experiment with minimal guidance. I know that PhD has a steep learning curve but isn't this way too steep (nearly vertical)?! There are so many things happening right now that I cannot think clearly what to do for my next step :( Do you have any advice for this novice PhD?
posted
12-Feb-19, 14:42
edited about 2 minutes later
by pm133
Avatar for pm133
posted about 9 months ago
You have only just started so you need to cut yourself some slack. You are going to make other mistakes in your PhD before the end so you need to learn to deal with that.
I would certainly set aside some time to get into the lab this week or today and start tying down some understanding of how the equipment works. You should try and prioritise that in my opinion.

Oh and yes, I'm afraid working with minimal supervision is part of parcel of independent research. You are going to have to expect that. I spent my first month learning all the tools I was going to be using, running tutorials I found online etc. This is all on you. If you are lucky you might find a colleague, a technician or another person to help you get going.
posted
13-Feb-19, 08:02
edited about 21 seconds later
by PhDhere
Avatar for PhDhere
posted about 9 months ago
This is normal. I never saw my supervisor in the lab. Almost everything is done independently during a phD. There is no reason to be ashamed at all if you fail an experiment or 100s as long as you learn from the previous mistakes. In fact, your supervisors make mistakes more than you think. A good supervisor will introduce you to a few people (postdocs/technicians/phD students) who are good at different areas so you can pester them and learn how they do their stuff. Some of them will be helpful so embrace them and learn as much as you can, and others won't be as helpful so you need to persevere to extract knowledge from them if they have what you need. It also serves you well to be prepared theoretically (reading manuals/protocols/troubleshooting) before you enter the lab at all. An hour on your computer will save you 10 hours in the lab.
posted
13-Feb-19, 11:31
by rewt
Avatar for rewt
posted about 9 months ago
Just get into the lab and use the equipment. I spent a few months trying to replicate someone else's work from about 4-5 years just so I knew what I was doing. Because it wasn't for my thesis, I could make mistakes and try different methods and learn what I needed help with. Everyone had to learn the methods at one point in their career, so don't blame yourself. Just take the time to learn it properly now as you probably have another 1-2 years left.
posted
21-Feb-19, 14:42
edited about 7 seconds later
Avatar for orchid11
posted about 9 months ago
Thank you for the encouraging advice! I understand that mistakes do happen and what's most important is how I learn from it. I was very stressed up due to it being my first experiment at such a big scale, with techniques I have no clue about. I did many mistakes along the way, another of which is actually huge. But my professor solved it again and changed the project's direction instead. She had more or less planned my whole PhD. Although she was annoyed when I did the mistakes, she kept her calm afterwards and encouraged me. I felt really grateful and told myself that I will not do such mistakes again, although at the same time I feel pressured that I need to do well to not let others down.
posted
21-Feb-19, 17:52
by pm133
Avatar for pm133
posted about 9 months ago
But this isn't sustainable orchid. You simply cannot be going into work each day absolutely petrified of making a mistake. You are GOING to make mistakes. It's a necessary part of scaling the heights of a PhD.

Why is your supervisor getting angry anyway? It's not their PhD and they have no business getting on your back while you are trying to learn. Your success or failure should have absolutely nothing to do with their career. You are grateful that she kept her calm? Personally I would have told her to back off in no uncertain terms.

Your work shouldn't have the potential to wreck the work of others either. That is an insane way to organise a research group full of PhD students. You should be thinking about nothing but your specific PhD and not fretting about how your stuff affects other people.

I don't understand any of this. You have been put in a ridiculous position.

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