April 4, 2007

Grad Student Woes Part 2: “When will you be finished?”

Posted in Rants, Work at 11:27 pm by a11en

The dreaded question to the graduate student: “When will you get out?”/”When will you be finished?”/”When will you get your degree?”… and for those long in the tooth grads: “Aren’t you already done?”/”Haven’t you graduated yet?”

In fact, even those very close to you will never understand the plight of the grad-student trying to finish up, until one has already been there. The reason? Science and graduate-studies wait for no one. Think you can get the chamber to grow films within x-months? Likely you won’t be able to. Something invariably comes up. This time it was the heater-block failure. Finally we have the block ordered and the machinists have expressed their desire to only tap a #4-40 hole at the smallest (can’t do a #5-40, but they’ll do a #4-40) into the super-alloy block. Wacked out. Our in-house machinist could do it- makes you wonder why they can’t. Anyways, I digress… it took 2 weeks to figure out we couldn’t fix the old one in time, and so we’re buying another for $3.5k. Nice tidy sum. But, that was the latest wrench in the works. You should have seen the face on my graduate-student co-worker: “But, but, we were in a good growth regime!”… “Ha ha haa!!” is all I laughed. See, I’ve been there, experienced it, and I’m tired of it. It’s time for me to be finished and get out of here. I think all of this is possible by October of this year. I hope to God it is. [Believe me, I pray regularly… who says Scientists aren’t also religous… as a grad-student, it’s almost a prerequisite.]

So, I hold up in my apartment writing and working numbers furiously. Trying to make sense of the work, and increase my knowledge. That’s what I need to do in order to get further… write and discover, discover and write.

Anyone who actually gives you an ending date which is 6 months away is likely not sure of their ending date. They’re only telling you to get you off their backs. Hell, I was telling people I’d be done in 1.5 years 4 years ago. Nothing ever works the way you expect it. Graduate studies in science tends to be this big behemoth lurking over your head which will one day be done with… only when you’re around 4 months away can you see the light at the end of the tunnel. Time is running short for me. I can see the light, but I have no idea if I’ll make it there in time. Chel is ready to start a new life together… and she can’t understand why the prelim has been in the works for over a year. It’s hard to explain to her why. In fact, no one other than my professor is likely to understand why. Even then, he may say he doesn’t know and has helped as much as he can. Everyone will have their own opinions of the work. The real question in the end is whether or not the work you have accomplished will be suitable for the committee. The only way to know that is to ask the committee. The only way to ask the committee is to have as many of your ducks in a row as possible. So that when they line of up for shooting practice, hopefully they’ll all agree it’s fairly decent work.

I think I’m finally done with my misorientation calculations. I know that my axes are in the wrong section of the rodriguez space, so some more work needs to be done… but for now, I know the matrix traces are correct, and the angles based on symmetry are calculated properly. This should be enough to move forward for now. Onto the next problem. It’s going to be frustrating to explain why it took 2/3 weeks to figure this out… and hard to express my increased knowledge. Hopefully it’ll all come out in the end. In fact, I need to go update some of my documents to express this new understanding. And time to update the prelim document and work on the talk. If all goes well, (praying and crossing fingers), I’ll hopefully be done with the Prelim in 3 weeks. Of course, I’ve already told that to enough people already (over the past 3 months), that it doesn’t mean much to me anymore. We’ll see if it actually gets done.

The worst of it- the more I discover, the more I have to change the prelim and the papers I’m writing. Best to just stop and finish the writing before discovering more.

But, these last few peices of the puzzle are critical to the Prof. for publishing the paper, so it needed to be done.

Lesson of the day: Do NOT ask a graduate student when he “thinks he will be done.” It’s improper, impolite, and I know you think it’s a simple question, but I guarantee to you it is *not* a simple question. The poor graduate student has to somehow sum up all possibilities of future failures and success and try and approximate a finishing date. If he tells you greater than 1 year, he’s lying (or he doesn’t know), if he tells you less than 4 months, he’s likely correct, as he’ s almost deposited his Thesis. But, the standard rule of adding at least 2 months onto the time he thinks he’s going to be out applies in the last case.

This is only further proof that the world of science is an inexact world. Trying to accomplish a work which is worthy of the PhD title is very difficult, and very loosely defined. Intensity of work from X- university is different than Y- university… x-research group very different than y-research group… x-field different than y-field, etc. So much so, that it’s very difficult to determine how one arrives at the PhD state…

In fact, I don’t really care how one does it… I just need it done so that I can move on and achieve a good work for a company. I need to accomplish more in my life than papers and theses now. So few will ever read my work that I often wonder what good it will all do in the end… hopefully I’ll garner a decent wage for my family, though. [You don’t wan’t to know how much my friend is making on much less effort… let’s just say that anyone who tries for their PhD is *not* in it for the money!]

Sorry for the rant today, guys. Here’s a link:PhD Comics- How's your research going?

I recently got to see Jorge Cham of PhD comics give a talk about graduate-school at my university. Excellent, excellent stuff. All I can say is that we are not alone… everyone goes through very similar experiences. I just hope that when I get done with this “experience” that I’m a Dr. so and so, instead of missing that degree. It’s a never-ending worry of mine, and sometimes it causes me to sit stunned before my work… I may actually never finish in time. I can’t let my worry stand in my way here, though. I have little to no time to worry anymore. It just needs to get done. I just hope it’s not too late to do so…

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1 Comment »

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