We're a little crazy, about science!

The way through

Well new year, new problems. I’m not super surprised I guess given… life. I’m incredibly tired, like mentally and physically exhausted, but we do what we need to in order to move forward. Like I said yesterday, the only way is through, so today is an example of how I try to cope with living. That’s right, time to plan and figure some things out.

For those unaware, I like planning. It gives me a sense of stability, even when the plans fall apart. Most of the time it just helps writing it out, even if the plan itself is useless. It’s little things like that, that have really improved my mental health over the years. It’s sort of like a release valve when I need it. By planning ahead I can at least see some of the options laid out to me and then things don’t feel so drastic as they do when I’m in the moment. The moment by the way, looks pretty fucking bleak.

Okay so to quickly recap what the hell just happened. Hospital-PI and school-PI have never really seen eye to eye and we found that out the hard way when we started a collaboration together (almost three years ago now), the culmination of which is going to eventually be published whenever “last paper” gets submitted. Soon hopefully, but the point is, there have been tensions between the two.

Mostly it’s a power dynamic that went wrong. I’m, of course, stuck in the middle of this power dynamic with absolutely zero power to do anything about it besides nod and agree as I’m stepped on. The problem now is my dissertation. The thing that introduces me to the world basically, the thing that says I’m a doctor and this is my advancement to the field. It’s all very good to talk about, but doing it is hard.

Over a year ago now school-PI was rushing to get me to do my proposal defense and I was fully onboard with doing it as quickly as possible. I was excited and I worked very hard on two grant proposals, my PhD proposal, and getting my committee together (the people who vote on if I’ve done enough in the field to give me a PhD title). Then suddenly he put the breaks on hard. I was not going to be able to do my defense until “last paper” got published, I could not collect data until I did my defense, and that was the final word, over a year ago now.

Since then I’ve been plodding forward. I finished “last paper” almost a year ago now and in that time there’s been a lot of back and forth about the analysis I did, how I did it, the conclusions we reached, etc. It’s been a sore spot for me and one that almost forced me out of academia all together. Since I have no power, I sucked it up, pushed forward and now I am roughly at the point where I should be able to do my proposal defense. However, school-PI had been silent on the proposal I sent him… for months.

Finally he hit me with the answer and it was a hit. I needed to triple my sample size and do a bunch of other work that we never talked about or even agreed to do. Since I took the job with the understanding from hospital-PI that my original proposal would be my PhD (thus balancing work and school), hospital-PI is upset, I’m upset, the lab coordinator at work is upset, everyone is upset. Not with me, but the situation and how things have progressed. Basically I’m being strung along, or it feels like it.

I don’t like saying bad things about school-PI or hospital-PI, because I respect both of them and they’ve both done a lot for me. However, I really do feel like school-PI is dragging me along for no reason. It’s really starting to hurt me and the worst part is I’m basically trapped. No one in my department is doing the same type of research school-PI does so I can’t transfer without causing problems. So how do we fix this?

Well the first option that I’m pursuing is to discuss the matter with my graduate advisor. I’m hoping that they will have some insight on my options that I’m not aware of. I don’t have high hopes, but it’s better than nothing. If that falls through, then the other hope is that one of the other PI’s (from a different department) will be able to at least give me a sanity check and make sure I’m not completely off base here. For all I know, this could be a regular thing and I’m just over reacting. That’s the short term plan.

Long term I need to figure out how to do my research between school and work. I’m hoping that if this completely falls apart I can get approval from someone, somewhere, to do some independent research at work and use that for my dissertation, or something along those lines. Since my hospital job is pure research in the correct field, I would be surprised if there wasn’t a mechanism like that for my degree, I just don’t know about it. I’m actually somewhat hopeful for this route, but I am not holding my breath, since I’ve already been screwed more times than I can count.

If all else fails, well sometimes you really do just have to suck it up and do it. Hospital-PI has offered to put our collaborations on hold. “Big idea” won’t wait forever, but if that’s what it takes, that’s what it takes. Sadly, big idea would’ve been a great project for my PhD and it would’ve been something very impressive (in my opinion anyway) from both a technical and innovation standpoint. This is my least favorite path, but it’s also sadly the path of least resistance. As a student I have zero power, I can’t give myself a PhD and I can do all the “Nature” level, independent research I want, it won’t get me a PhD.

In short, things may get very hard before they get better. So don’t be surprised if my little mental health detore (since the last several posts have revolved around mental health) continues. Speaking of which, this is exactly how I manage my mental health. At least one aspect of it. Honestly, writing it down and coming up with a plan really helps.

It doesn’t make it less painful, or less stressful, but sometimes seeing the whole picture, or at least most of it, makes you feel less backed into a corner. Even if you really are backed into a corner. Well, let’s go.

2 responses

  1. Seeing this all laid out … yeah, it doesn’t seem fair. If “last paper” isn’t part of your dissertation, why should other things be contingent on it? Especially since multiple aspects of the publication process aren’t under your control.

    I want the best for you. No one should be able to yank you around for arbitrary or self-serving reasons. Take care of yourself and come through this.

    Liked by 1 person

    February 23, 2022 at 1:16 pm

    • It’s frustrating for sure. The worst part is I’m basically trapped and the bar keeps getting moved so I don’t even know what the hell is going on any more. There’s not a lot of hope at the moment, but that could change. I don’t even know anymore.

      Thank you as always for the support. I’ll make it, it’s just a struggle for the moment. Once it gets solved though things will be better… I hope. I just need to do my dissertation proposal. At least then the bar is set and changing it arbitrarily will be far harder to do.

      Liked by 1 person

      February 24, 2022 at 4:22 pm

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