We're a little crazy, about science!

Dissertation crossroads

It had to happen sooner or later, I have too many PI’s, and it was bound to cause some chaos in my life. The short version, in case you don’t want the longer one, is that I need to decide if my dissertation project is really the way I want to go about my degree. I have some options for what I want to do for my dissertation and my hospital-PI has offered several alternatives to the original path I was planning. It’s a tempting offer too, I just don’t know which one would be the better option or if there really is a choice here since I’ve technically already committed to the other project.

Some days you just can’t figure out which way is up. It’s been a particularly busy day for me so having this thrown into my lap doesn’t exactly help things. I’m not even sure where to start, but for anyone new we can take it from the top.

The condensed version is that I came up with a “super secret” technique which I was very excited about. The initial data we collected for it (n = 1) was great and I was cautiously optimistic going forward. However, funding has been an issue lately. I just haven’t been able to secure any sort of funding for my project so it’s been sitting there waiting for me to finish it. That project is the only thing keeping me from getting my PhD. But all is not lost! I recently got funding for it (here). That was the good news, but it complicated a choice I made just a few weeks prior, I took a leap and got a “job” at the hospital I had been doing my research at. I say “job” because it’s basically what I’ve been doing, but the difference is that I now get paid better to do it (more here).

Which leads us to today. I’ve made little secret of the fact that my school-PI and hospital-PI don’t see eye to eye. It’s not that they don’t like each other exactly, it’s just that both have very different ways of doing research and what they are comfortable with. It’s caused some friction between them and has left me stuck in the middle like a child with two parents who can’t stand to be in the same room.

Unfortunately, unlike parents neither have any innate requirement to care about me (okay neither do parents, but that’s a whole other can of worms). Both are great people and I’m happy to know them, it’s just the combination that causes problems. On one hand I have my hospital-PI who is the source of my paycheck now and I get to do some really cool stuff that I’m thrilled to be part of. On the other hand is school-PI who holds the key to my PhD. I’ve put years into this degree and over a decade in the road to start this process, so I really want to finish.

Now I’m stuck wondering what to do because my hospital-PI would like me to use some of the projects I’m working on in his lab to do my PhD dissertation on, which I don’t mind because we can use my “super secret” technique to do some of that work. The benefit would be that the science would be more interpretable. We could answer very clear, well thought out questions that may have huge benefits to people. Best of all, I’m already doing the work, so it wouldn’t be anything additional to what I need to do.

On the other hand, the project with my school-PI is more technical and while the answers we would get from the questions we are asking wouldn’t be as straightforward to use, it could still benefit people. Plus we would be laying the groundwork for my “super secret” technique and stretching what we can do using it to the extremes and maybe even beyond to the point that it stops working. In short, that project would give us a very clear cut idea of the limitations of my technique.

Of course, this all hinges on if it actually works…. it may not work. The original study was an n of 1 which in science is a huge red flag if I were to claim something from it. Basically it was a proof of concept more than anything and it worked well, which meant we could continue to do more work with it and expand the number of subjects.

In the case of my hospital-PI’s project, we would be using the “super secret” technique very lightly…? I guess that’s the best way to put it. We would be very conservative, so conservative I already know it works with a fair amount of certainty because we’ve already checked that aspect of it. So while it’s not as groundbreaking, or innovative, or eye popping, it’s still very cool and would be the “safe” option. So less work, safe, and I wouldn’t have to try to maneuver too much to keep my hospital-PI happy, which he’s already pretty annoyed about the whole situation between the two of them.

However, there’s also my committee I need to think about and the fact that we just got awarded funding very specifically for my project and for me. Hell I just did an interview talking about how this could change a lot of things for people and help so, so many people (here). So I feel very committed to this already and I don’t know what to do since I really don’t want to piss off school-PI and have my three years of hard work tossed in the garbage because I get booted from his lab.


As it stands now I don’t know what to do. I believe that it may be in my best interest to keep the path I have in front of me, but I really need to have a long conversation with school-PI and make sure everything is clear before we get started on the project. The hardest part will be the data collection and I was already promised help. If that goes well then I should be able to smooth things over. I need to be available for hospital-PI since that’s my paycheck and technically my future, but at the same time I need to make sure that I can still get my PhD when it’s all said and done.

I feel like there’s a mummified monkey’s paw somewhere that had a finger curl when I made all these plans. What do you do when you get everything you want all at once?

So for now I need to make some plans and come up with what to do next. I really don’t want to piss anyone off, but I think I’m going to be making someone very unhappy here sooner or later. My hospital-PI is already warning me that it’s coming.

2 responses

  1. If you did do your dissertation on hospital-PI’s project, what would happen to the funding? Would it be withdrawn? Would the school lab try to find somebody else to do the original project?

    Liked by 1 person

    November 5, 2021 at 6:06 pm

    • No, now that the funding was awarded the expectation is that the project will be done. It doesn’t matter who does the project though, so I could theoretically jump ship if I wanted to. The problem is, I feel like I already committed to the project so I need to figure out a way to make it all work. I just don’t know how quite yet.

      Liked by 1 person

      November 6, 2021 at 11:01 am

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