It’s gonna get better, right?

There are times (usually when everything is working right and the data all make sense) when I think to myself, “You know, doing a post-doc wouldn’t be that bad.  And then I can go on to have a nice little research lab at an undergrad institution and I think I might really enjoy that.”

This is not one of those times.

I swear to you just about everything I’m doing right now is going horribly awry and I can’t find a way to make it better.  Right now just about the only thing that seems to be going okay is my cloning.  This is a miracle in and of itself because usually cloning is the thing that messes me up time and again and makes me want to beat my head into a wall in frustration.

But, it’s not the cloning this time, it’s the actual experiments.  I’m still having trouble with my IFs.  Zymolyase seems to kill the antigen I’m staining for so I’m back to lyticase.  I’m getting partial permeablization of the cells but it’s less than 20% of the cells.  This does not fill me or my advisor with confidence.  And so I continue to troubleshoot this experiment, doing it over and over and over again and nothing seems to help.  As far as we can tell, the problem cropped up because we switched from growing the cells in a warm room to an incubator.  Can’t go back to the warm room–it’s been destroyed to make an office or something.  So, I keep playing with conditions in the incubator, hoping something, anything will help.

My advisor has very little advice for me.  Mostly, I go in, tell him the results of the experiment (it failed, again), tell him what I plan on trying next and he agrees with it and tells me he’s sorry I’m having these problems and I go and do the experiment over.  Rinse and repeat.  You know, I realize that ideally, as a student, you should get to a point where you are going into your advisor’s office and telling him what you plan to do and he agrees with it and doesn’t have anything further to add.  And, I should be happy that I’ve reached that level of scientific maturity.  But, I’m not.  I’m like a small child that just wants her parents to fix everything and make it alright.  I want him to fix it.  I want him to have a brilliant solution that will make the experiments work again and I can go on and finish this degree.  But, that isn’t going to happen.

I’ve spent weeks troubleshooting this experiment.  And it’s a long-ass experiment so everytime I do it I’m setting myself up for a 12-hour day (at least).  And it’s a critical experiment.  I have to have it.  There is no getting out of here without it.  And that’s the thing that’s got me so depressed.  Until I have this experiment working again, there is no end in sight.  It feels like three months from now I will still be trying to make this damn thing work.

And so, I’m reminded why I decided a career in research is not for me.  The constant failure depresses me.  I mean like change-in-medication depressed.  Some people get angry when faced with failure and I think that fires them up.  But failure just runs me down.  And I’ve experienced so much of it since coming to grad school.  I honestly think I’ve experienced more failure in grad school than I had in my entire life before it.  I just don’t know how to pick myself up anymore.  I am dead tired.  Physically, mentally, emotionally tired.  Truly, there is nothing left in me to give and it’s getting harder and harder to come in every day and do an experiment that I fully expect to fail.

3 thoughts on “It’s gonna get better, right?

  1. I am so sorry. This really sounds like the end of my graduate career too. There is nothing to say because it’s just plain horrible. Don’t give up on your hope of having a little lab at an undergrad institution if that’s what you want to do, however. You might surprise yourself. I applied to a tenure-track job at a small college ‘just for the experience’ because I was pretty sure that 1) I wasn’t leaving grad school that soon, and 2) I didn’t have a postdoc, so why would they hire me?

    Long story short: I start lecturing in 3 weeks. It was SO much better finishing the PhD once I could see the light because of this job.

    Anyway, I wish you the best; I hope things turn around for you soon.


  2. I’m the same way. Failure gets me down too. And that’s why research isn’t the right career for me in the long run.

    As to the probs with your cells… could it be something stupid like the speed at which the cells are shaking (aeration?)? Something different about your culture volumes or vessels?

    I know it sounds like arbitrary garbage that shouldn’t matter, but sometimes the little things make a big difference. We couldn’t get our cells to release from pronase for months… finally found out that our media person had switched water sources and something about the water (besides the pH) was giving us trouble. Switched back to the old water and everything started working again…

  3. ugh. I so know how you feel. I wish I knew how to fix it for you. That getting beaten down till you can’t get back up thing is (unfortunately) so common in grad school, although not always for experimental reasons. I too dream of a small undergraduate job out there for me… Those who’ve managed to finish before me and get out of here assure me it’s much nicer on the other side. I hope they’re right

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