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Drop out of graduate school?


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#1 ctye0712

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Posted 02 October 2010 - 08:47 AM

I've been awarded a considerably prestigous scholarship for direct phd in my country. That is because I did pretty well for my undergraduate years and one of the associate professor in my university probably gave me a good recommendation after I spoke to him about my intention of applying for the scholarship (even though he barely knew me). It has been 4 months since I began research in the laboratory and I realise I am really not cut out to be a phd student. I have forgotten most of what I've learnt in my undergraduate classes or I've simply never acquired the knowledge. I wasn't a diligent undergrad but I was very good at studying at the eleventh hour and scoring for my exams. And also my school exercises the bell curve grading system, and therefore, despite not understanding my classes well, I memorise sufficient details during last min cramming to score for examinations.

I may have survived my undergraduate years too easily that I underestimate the level of difficulty of graduate school. I came to realise that I do not have enough background knowledge to do research. Even concepts that were taught in my undergraduate classes, such as genetic engineering, can be obscure to me. I cannot catch up with the progress of lab meeting and I have difficulty understanding my PI when she spoke to me about my project. The post doc in my lab has to guide me for every single technique and theory.

And I am such a sloppy person that I keep making idiotic mistakes in my experiments. Even if I have read the protocol, I will forget some steps or add the wrong reagent. It is also frustrating that I have to spend 5 hours doing a simple assay which can be done in 1 hour's time. The situation escalated because I was feeling really stressed up, that I was even worse than ever. I have wasted alot of time running in between labs (sometimes I have to work in 2 different lab which are a few buildings apart) because I have forgotten to bring some equipments or reagents. Today, I have wasted a 500 dollars kit just to test out the reactivity of a 300 dollars reagent which I failed to reconstitute well. But what's worse it, I have mixed the wrong reagents together and the entire kit could not be used. I was supposed to use just a portion of the kit to test my reagent and the remaining portion on an important experiment.

I feel that I am really not cut out to be a phd student. I don't know whether I should quit now so that I do not have to pay back too huge a sum for my stipend and school fees, should I be forced to quit in the future. However, it is really difficult because everyone has high expectations of me, I think I will feel too ashamed to tell my family or friends that I am quitting graduate school. I wonder if anyone has been through this phase of life during their graduate studies? What do you suggest that I should do?

Edited by ctye0712, 02 October 2010 - 08:52 AM.


#2 Adrian K

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Posted 02 October 2010 - 10:00 AM

Is just like getting a driving license, I got a friend who graduated as a medical doctor but however failed 4 times in his exam for getting a driving license.

Getting a good CGPA doesn't always correlates with good lab hands on techniques. To be good in your project, this requires your dedication and learning from the experienced. It is not a shame for not being do good in the beginning, everyone learn it from multiple failures. You should be glad that there are postdocs to guide you. Just imagine you work in a lab where you have to start and learn everything on your own...once you experienced that you will be grateful on how lucky you are.

No such thing as idiotic mistake. I even seen some smart-alex graduated student autoclaved the whole bunch of newly purchased "autoclave tapes" before use it which makes me fainted on the spot. I myself even used to forget adding primers in my PCR reaction.... but then, who doesn't make any mistakes?

You will never succeed by giving up early. Unless if you said that you hate the project or working environment then it is a total different story.
Expecting the world to treat you fairly because you are a good person is like expecting the lion not to attack you because you are a vegetarian.

..."best of our knowledge, as far as we know this had never been reported before, though I can't possible read all the published journals on earth, but by perform thorough search in google, the keywords did not match any documents"...

"what doesn't kill you, makes you stronger"---Goddess Casandra reminds me to be strong

"It's all just DNA. Do it."---phage434

#3 HomeBrew

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Posted 02 October 2010 - 12:28 PM

As far as being good at the bench and following the science completely in meetings, I think you might be being too tough on yourself to expect to feel fully competent after only four months. And, mistakes happen -- alot of them early on. The key is not to have the same mistakes happen more than once... The toughest protocol is always the one you do for the first time -- the second time is easier, the third easier still, and at some point, you can do it in your sleep. The other stuff is organizational and time management skills, which will become better if you learn from your mistakes.

#4 philman

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Posted 04 October 2010 - 04:20 AM

I am a PhD student a few months in as well, but from what I have gathered in my time here so far is that everything you do is a form of learning. I have messed up a load of experiments (I have a month and a half full of labbook with useless qPCR results for a start) and wasted plenty of reagents myself. Reading literature is a pain in the arse and I feel I am way behind, but then from what I have gthered almos everyone here says they don't think they read enough.

I think itis perfectly normal to feel overwhelmed upon becomming a PhD student, it is expected really, you are coming out of an environment where you are told what to learn, and thrust into an environment where you organise all your learning yourself.

Personally the only time I would consider leavng this was if I didn't feel I was enjoying it or if I didn't feel I wanted to be a scientist. Despite the wastes of time and money I have had now and again, and the feeling of not knowing anywhere near enough as the rest of the lab, I am still enjoying thelearning experience.

As long as you are still enjoying science, then I would say stick with it and things will come. If it has got so bad you are not enjoying it anymore, then perhaps.

#5 ctye0712

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Posted 04 October 2010 - 07:28 AM

Thank you adrian, homebrew and philmanfor your kind comments. I've been reading your comments these couple of days and I feel alot better already. I guess I do like research and I guess I should give myself somemore time to increase productivity. Maybe like what my PI told me, I should just think of one thing at a time. And maybe I should wait longer and see if phd is really the right choice, because at this point of time, I've been travelling on a really bumpy road.

I wonder if you would be interested in listening to my cursed graduate life, something terrible just happened to me, again. And this time, entirely unrelated to research work. I had to do a heavy-weightage group assignment for one of the classes that I go for. And a graded portion of the assignment requires different groups to post questions to the other groups doing a presentation on their assignment. One of my group mates was so stressed out by this, that she took the liberty (without the consent of me and the other group member) to mass email everyone in the tutorial class, proposing a well-thought out plan for each individual groups to come out with questions before the class and share it so that everyone can prepare for the answers. She wanted to do so, so that no one will be caught off-guard during the tutorial class. And worse of all, she propose that everyone put on their pretending skills and act natural during the class, such that the tutor will not know that we had prepared the Q&A earlier.

I was given a rude shock when I saw the email, and I told myself "No, I disagree". But I didn't take much action other than try to tell that group mate that I am worried about what she had done and that she is taking a huge risk. Not everyone will agree and there will potentially be someone who will stab her behind her back. I was being really subtle and nice (although I really wanted to tell her that she may get us into trouble), that she saw the risk of mass emailing everyone, but did not see the urgency to rectify the issue. I, on the other hand, was also crossing my finger and hoping that this problem will just die down and that our tutors will not find out. Everytime she mentioned about working on the "shared" questions, I just kept quiet and made no further comments about it. In the end, no one except one tutorial classmate replied saying it was a good idea. I just didn't want to be very involved in this, so I did nothing. Since nobody else was keen anyways, so I thought that everything will be fine.

In the end someone told on us and our tutors had a "meeting" with us to find out why we wanted to cheat. Never in my life was I accused of cheating and having to be "trialled" that I was flushing and feeling quite nervous. Even though my group member admitted that she came out with the plan without me and the other member's agreement, I still feel stressed up. I tried hard to speak up for her, and I was hesitant when my tutor asked me if I think her actions were wrong. I tried not to increase her burden so I hesitated and used subtle words like "I disagree with her" ..."but I hope you would give her another chance". However, this probably make one of my tutor think that I am involved too that he asked me 2 or 3 time whether I am "realy not involved" and whether I "knew this beforehand". He sounded as if, I was also involved in planning this, but I let my group mate take all the blame. Even though I tried to explain for myself, without sounding as if I put blame on my group member, he doesn't seem to believe me. Perhaps my stand was not firm enough.

In the end, the entire group was punished. My group mate had a good portion of her grades taken off, and the other 2 of us had half of the penalty she got. I just feel that my tutor does not trust me that I am totally innocent (ok, not totally, since I did nothing to stop my groupmate) because of my hesitance. My parents told me I should have not spoken up for her, and should have made things clear that I really wasn't part of planning the "scheme". Just like what the other group member did, and my tutor did not question him; my tutor even thanked him for being non-hesitant. I on the other hand, has garnered poor impression.

FML...I guess there is nothing more we can do except do really well for the assignment so as to gain as much points as possible to cover for the points that we've lost. Sadly though, the assignment, in my opinion, is badly done and pretty much in pieces. Now that we have screwed up so badly, I think it will be even harder to score reasonably well for this semester to keep my scholarship...sigh

#6 ctye0712

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Posted 04 October 2010 - 07:28 AM

Thank you adrian, homebrew and philman for your kind comments. I've been reading your comments these couple of days and I feel alot better already. I guess I do like research and I guess I should give myself somemore time to increase productivity. Maybe like what my PI told me, I should just think of one thing at a time. And maybe I should wait longer and see if phd is really the right choice, because at this point of time, I've been travelling on a really bumpy road.

I wonder if you would be interested in listening to my cursed graduate life, something terrible just happened to me, again. And this time, entirely unrelated to research work. I had to do a heavy-weightage group assignment for one of the classes that I go for. And a graded portion of the assignment requires different groups to post questions to the other groups doing a presentation on their assignment. One of my group mates was so stressed out by this, that she took the liberty (without the consent of me and the other group member) to mass email everyone in the tutorial class, proposing a well-thought out plan for each individual groups to come out with questions before the class and share it so that everyone can prepare for the answers. She wanted to do so, so that no one will be caught off-guard during the tutorial class. And worse of all, she propose that everyone put on their pretending skills and act natural during the class, such that the tutor will not know that we had prepared the Q&A earlier.

I was given a rude shock when I saw the email, and I told myself "No, I disagree". But I didn't take much action other than try to tell that group mate that I am worried about what she had done and that she is taking a huge risk. Not everyone will agree and there will potentially be someone who will stab her behind her back. I was being really subtle and nice (although I really wanted to tell her that she may get us into trouble), that she saw the risk of mass emailing everyone, but did not see the urgency to rectify the issue. I, on the other hand, was also crossing my finger and hoping that this problem will just die down and that our tutors will not find out. Everytime she mentioned about working on the "shared" questions, I just kept quiet and made no further comments about it. In the end, no one except one tutorial classmate replied saying it was a good idea. I just didn't want to be very involved in this, so I did nothing. Since nobody else was keen anyways, so I thought that everything will be fine.

In the end someone told on us and our tutors had a "meeting" with us to find out why we wanted to cheat. Never in my life was I accused of cheating and having to be "trialled" that I was flushing and feeling quite nervous. Even though my group member admitted that she came out with the plan without me and the other member's agreement, I still feel stressed up. I tried hard to speak up for her, and I was hesitant when my tutor asked me if I think her actions were wrong. I tried not to increase her burden so I hesitated and used subtle words like "I disagree with her" ..."but I hope you would give her another chance". However, this probably make one of my tutor think that I am involved too that he asked me 2 or 3 time whether I am "realy not involved" and whether I "knew this beforehand". He sounded as if, I was also involved in planning this, but I let my group mate take all the blame. Even though I tried to explain for myself, without sounding as if I put blame on my group member, he doesn't seem to believe me. Perhaps my stand was not firm enough.

In the end, the entire group was punished. My group mate had a good portion of her grades taken off, and the other 2 of us had half of the penalty she got. I just feel that my tutor does not trust me that I am totally innocent (ok, not totally, since I did nothing to stop my groupmate) because of my hesitance. My parents told me I should have not spoken up for her, and should have made things clear that I really wasn't part of planning the "scheme". Just like what the other group member did, and my tutor did not question him; my tutor even thanked him for being non-hesitant. I on the other hand, has garnered poor impression.

FML...I guess there is nothing more we can do except do really well for the assignment so as to gain as much points as possible to cover for the points that we've lost. Sadly though, the assignment, in my opinion, is badly done and pretty much in pieces. Now that we have screwed up so badly, I think it will be even harder to score reasonably well for this semester to keep my scholarship...sigh

#7 Adrian K

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Posted 04 October 2010 - 08:47 AM

I have been in similar situation before (not in grad school..), I spoke up for my friend and both of us get punished although I never did a single thing. If you watch Apprentice, you will know that when somebody was in deep s*it, is always the best not to get involved. At least this is what I learn from the series.

I'm not teaching you to cheat your tutor, but actually the way your friend proposed involved too many people. It should be only involved a few trusted persons and ask them to bombard the "prepared" questions till time runs out. I have seen such trick worked during my undergraduates time. However, my group wasn't apply this "cheat" because we challenged ourselves to face the impromptu and test our understanding on our assigned work. In the end, we were out performed than the rest who "cheats".

Remember, what's done is done. Let it go and move on. Good luck in your research work and tutorial.

p/s: where are you from?
Expecting the world to treat you fairly because you are a good person is like expecting the lion not to attack you because you are a vegetarian.

..."best of our knowledge, as far as we know this had never been reported before, though I can't possible read all the published journals on earth, but by perform thorough search in google, the keywords did not match any documents"...

"what doesn't kill you, makes you stronger"---Goddess Casandra reminds me to be strong

"It's all just DNA. Do it."---phage434

#8 ctye0712

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Posted 04 October 2010 - 09:02 AM

haha adrian, yes i agree, we should be challenged by difficult questions that set us thinking. And thanks for replying, I needed a listening ear.

By the way, I am from a small modern island found along the straits of malacca. Can you guess where?

#9 Adrian K

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Posted 04 October 2010 - 09:16 AM

Hmn..I like to guess, and I think I got the answer and my reply as below:

No offence though, my country did refers your country as "Kiasu-land". But then many of my country's citizens want to become your country's permanent residence and many youngsters are rushing to work in your country. And my country's top university can't beat any of your country's university in terms of global ranking. (indeed, my country is more "kiasu" than yours)

You had my condolence for the departure of your ex-PM's wife.

A rich tycoon (from my country) just set up a Casino in your country...roughly one year ago?

Your country buys water from us.


Only the citizens of you and mine country will understand what I said here. Did I guess it correctly? haha...

Edited by adrian kohsf, 04 October 2010 - 09:34 AM.

Expecting the world to treat you fairly because you are a good person is like expecting the lion not to attack you because you are a vegetarian.

..."best of our knowledge, as far as we know this had never been reported before, though I can't possible read all the published journals on earth, but by perform thorough search in google, the keywords did not match any documents"...

"what doesn't kill you, makes you stronger"---Goddess Casandra reminds me to be strong

"It's all just DNA. Do it."---phage434

#10 Maddie

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Posted 04 October 2010 - 10:04 AM

Hi ctye0712

Not telling your mate "no" was indeed a mistake and I think that you do feel guilty about that. Your colleague who didn't defend the lady doesn't have a conscience as honest as you and I think you should at least be proud to feel remorse. It was a mistake not to stop her and you know you did wrong there, but everybody makes mistakes so don't be too hard on yourself. I think that you should have told this your PI: "I didn't agree but I didn't stop her either, so I also take full responsability and I deeply apologize". If you feel ambiguous about the whole thing, then your PI will feel it and this may be what triggers his attitude. Just tell him that you regret and that it will never happen again. I'm sure all will be forgotten in no time. Good luck. Try not to be so harsh on yourself. Remember that we are all imperfect. ;)
Well some more than others... :P

Maddie
Theory is when we know everything and nothing is working. Practice is when everything is working and nobody knows why. Here, we combine theory and practice. Nothing is working and nobody knows why.

A. Einstein

#11 rkay447

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Posted 04 October 2010 - 10:43 AM

So sorry that you are off to such a rocky start in graduate school but I really believe that's part of the process. My first year in my thesis lab was a complete disaster and my PI kept saying things like, "Gee, I hope you aren't one of THOSE students." I discovered that graduate school is very much learning by oops. As for your benchwork, you need to take the time before starting an experiment to think it completely through. Write it out, step by every single little step. Get organized and know your protocol BEFORE starting. Make lists and check things off. When I'm doing a western blot or IF that is going to take many different antibodies, I write everything out step by step and cross it off as I get done. I make lists of experiments and ALL the steps that go into it. Don't expect that you are going to understand everything for awhile and when something doesn't make sense, don't just nod your head and smile. Make your advisor explain more. Say to him/her, I'm sorry but I just don't understand what you mean by this. Can you explain it more? Don't let your ego or fear of being embarrassed hold you back. Do as much reading as you can and try to look things up for yourself if possible but there is nothing wrong with a new student asking for clarification. It shows that you are interested and want to know. I say as long as you are interested in the research and want to do better, keep trying. You will get better. You will get stronger and eventually you'll look back and be impressed by how far you've come and how much you've learned. Now, as for your situation with a classmate, for future reference, it would have served you well to send her a personal email saying you were concerned about the cheating aspect and that you did not think that this was a good idea. Then you would have been able to produce written proof that you did not support the idea at the time it was proposed.

#12 ctye0712

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Posted 04 October 2010 - 04:00 PM

Wow Adrian! Hi! I didn't expect to see one of our friendly neighbours here! Did you already guessed where I was from even before I gave you that hint?

Thank you Maddie, I am contemplating talking to my Pi about this (gosh I have 2 PIs). I've also been thinking whether I should talk to that tutor who doubted me again to reassure him that I was guilty of keeping mum but not guilty of the scheming. What do you think? By the way, actually the other group member did also speak up for the groupmate somewhat but he sounded much more firm stating that the plan was wrong. Whereas I hesitated way too much. I even commented that it was "fair enough" when my tutor announced our punishment... my dad thinks I am really stupid to say so. Because all the more myy tutor will think that I am involved, or at least agreed to the plan. And now I feel I was stupid too, although at that point of time, I agree that if there is a punishment, we as a group should take it together. Afterall, I did not stop her, I just let "nature takes its course".

And rkay, that is a wonderful idea about lab, I should do just that. Make a checklist and write down the details of the experiments before conducting them.Hopefully, I can be much more organized.

Thank you so much guys for spending time to write those encouraging words! I really appreciate them.

Edited by ctye0712, 04 October 2010 - 04:13 PM.


#13 Adrian K

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Posted 04 October 2010 - 06:54 PM

Hi ctye0712,
I got a feeling that we might from a same region and that's the reason I ask. Your nick also sounds familiar... but I couldn't recall where I saw your nick.
Perhaps you should watch the Jack Neo's movie "I not stupid 1 & 2" and learn what the kid says "My mother says is nothing to do with me...." LOL...
For the tutor, I would suggest first try to be friend with him/her, and then talk to him about this slowly and later, and tell the tutor the real scenario and how do you feel about the punishment, with open heart.

Remember, you are not alone. Everyone here willing to share and listen to you.
p/s: check your PM.
Expecting the world to treat you fairly because you are a good person is like expecting the lion not to attack you because you are a vegetarian.

..."best of our knowledge, as far as we know this had never been reported before, though I can't possible read all the published journals on earth, but by perform thorough search in google, the keywords did not match any documents"...

"what doesn't kill you, makes you stronger"---Goddess Casandra reminds me to be strong

"It's all just DNA. Do it."---phage434

#14 BryanC

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Posted 02 February 2013 - 12:46 PM

Not sure if you will ever read this but I am curious if you are still grinding away on the bench cyte0712?

#15 Suzanna

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Posted 15 April 2013 - 12:57 PM

i am totally in the same situation myself!




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