Posted by: unlikelygrad | May 20, 2010

mundane realities

I don’t know if I’ve mentioned this before or not, but I am currently Dr. Hand-Waver’s only student. When I came to visit MyU as a prospective grad student I met H and A, both Dr. HW’s students, and they seemed really nice. But H graduated last May and A graduated in September, so when I signed on here only T was left. T graduated last month.

At first, Dr. HW had assumed that T would stick around here for a month or so after graduation to teach me the ropes–she did have enough money to pay him. But he landed a job a lot faster than we all thought he was going to, and they wanted him to start right away.

We spent T’s last 2 weeks here frantically running experiments so he could show me how everything worked. Unfortunately, there’s a lot of knowledge he didn’t manage to pass on. Even worse, some of the methodology was developed by A, and T only had a fuzzy idea how it worked.

I read A’s papers and his dissertation, but when I tried to run experiments things were still wrong. And so I have spent the last few weeks trying to suss out how I’m deviating from his established methodology–partially through trial and error, and partially through emails and phone calls. (When I called A yesterday, he was out in the field, sampling stream water at a remote site in Southeastern Alaska. He couldn’t believe that there was decent cell service there.)

The frustrating thing is that I know how I want to proceed with my research, how I want to build on (primarily) A’s work, how I want to combine Dr. HW’s specialty with that of other professors here at MyU to do something unique. But I can’t, because I have too many bugs in my methodology.

On days like today, I hear SL’s voice in my head–yes, a good year after I left his lab. “UnlikelyGrad,” he says, as he always did when things were going completely wrong, “This is what research REALLY is.” Yeah, yeah. I know.

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