Officially, there is no requirement for publication in order to get your PhD at my institution in my program. Unofficially, there is no way in hell you are leaving here without at least a portion of your thesis being submitted to a journal. Since I would like to graduate sometime soon, all of my effort has been on fleshing out “my” paper (I say my paper, but in reality there’s likely to be four or five authors, I’ll just be the first one).
In science, I feel like we often live in a dream world. That dream world is made up of What I Know To Be True I Just Haven’t Done the Experiment To Prove it Yet. This, in turn, is based on a particular hypothesis which is (hopefully) based on previous data. We float along in this dream world, blythely doing our cloning and setting up experiments and fitting them into a nice little story that can be told in five figures. If you are lucky, your dream world and reality are in perfect harmony and when reality steps in, your results are everything that you dreamed they would be.
If you are not lucky, reality will grab you by the collar, pull you down an alley, hold you at gunpoint and force you to admit that your data do not match your hypothesis.
Guess which version of events happened to me yesterday.
I had a lovely outline for a paper. Two of the papers published in our lab had certain unanswered questions at the ends of them and I was taking those questions, getting data, tying it up in an elegant velvet bow and getting my degree in the progress.
Based on information from papers X and Y, I had formed Hypothesis Z. I did Experiment 1 to test my hypothesis and got Result A. Based on Result A, I did Experiment 2 and got Result B. So far, so good. Based on Results A and B, I did Experiment 3 and got result Fish. And I thought, “No, no, the result cannot possibly be Fish because the result is supposed to be C. All of the evidence I have so far says that the result should be C. There is no room in my dream world for result Fish.” But, try as I might, I cannot get result C. The answer to the question asked in Experiment 3 is Fish. Even worse, Fish is…nothing. It’s a negative result. In the experiment, I deleted a region from a gene and it was supposed to affect the localization of a particular protein and nothing happened. No affect on localization.
And we all know how journals just love to publish papers based on negative results.
When I got Result Fish, I emailed Advisor. Actually, I sent two emails to Advisor. One was a long rant about how I cannot make the new software for the camera for the microscope do what I want it to do and nobody knows how to use the damn software and this is a Big Waste of My Time and I want someone from the company to come in and train us on this software so I don’t have to spend hours looking for functions that apparently do not exist. The second email was more about my data and how it is Fish and not C and what caveats about Experiment 3 could lead to Result Fish and I have thought of an Experiment 4 which would get around those caveats and we will hopefully see Result C, but if we don’t and we still get Fish then I will cry. Advisor emailed me back suggesting we look at my slides on Monday. He (very wisely) did not mention anything I said in the first email.
Now, this is what science is all about, right? I mean, I understand that we do the experiments because we do not in fact know the answer to the question we are asking and therefore the answer may not be what we think it should be and we will have to rethink our hypotheses and build a new model to be tested and that this happens every day to every scientist. BUT does it really have to happen to me RIGHT NOW??!!! I don’t have TIME for this shit. I’m an 8th year graduate student, my husband has been living a couple thousand miles away for the past year and I’m 33 and my eggs are getting old and I Must Reproduce Soon and I’m tired of graduate school and being poor and being a student and constant failure and somehow getting stuck with the project that fails in every way imaginable SUCH THAT I am here in my 8th year and I don’t have a freakin’ first author paper yet!