Thursday, June 4, 2009

Overwhelmed and discouraged

The field station has been having a brownout all evening. I ate dinner
by candlelight as two kittens played around my feet and I pondered my
project. Today is one of those days when I feel totally overwhelmed by
my project. This certainly isn't the first time.

I looked through my notebook from my first year of grad school for
inspiration. I've been kicking around these same ideas the whole time,
but I feel like I'm missing something. It's too complex and messy. I'm
trying to figure out which of a bazillion possible influences is most
important in explaining an observed phenomenon. My experiments, so
neat and tidy on paper, in reality have to account for a hundred
additional variables.

Surely there must be a more elegant way of reaching my goal to
accomplish useful, relevant, and publishable research this summer.

I have no idea what I'm doing. Tomorrow I need to talk with my field
assistants about "the plan" and I don't know what to tell them. I'm
doing a terrible job of trying not to panic. I don't know what to do.


EcoGeoFemme said...

I think everyone feels this way at first, and from time-to-time throughout. Just start doing what seems best to start with. You can always change course later, and there's little chance that the data you collect will be worthless. You might wish you had more or different measurements, but you probably won't regret what you get. The point of doing this is to learn to do it -- if you already knew how to do research you wouldn't being getting a PhD. Cut yourself some slack!

Albatross said...

EGF is totally right!
The nature of field work requires difficult decisions but also requires flexibility. Trust yourself and your instinct in the situation but remember to stay flexible if the situation changes.

It doesn't need to be perfect to be publishable. I'm not sure there is such as thing as a perfect field experiment!
You will be great! Good luck!

sarcozona said...

Everybody feels like that at some point in a research project - use the worries to help you build a better project and be critical, but don't let it stop you! You're an incredible scientist and I know you'll do amazing things :)

Transient Theorist said...

Fieldwork != math

A painful, unavoidable fact, sigh. Writing down experiments on paper is like writing out math equations - you can make them perfect and elegant (and we know you've got the math skillz).

Actually doing experiments seems to always be experiences in organized chaos, at each moment doing the best you can with what you have and the situations that you are dealt with. The ability to do that is something mathematicians don't understand, but what I think makes field scientists really impressive. Other people that do fieldwork will recognize how hard it is to collect the data you're going for, and give you lee-way for things that aren't tidy or perfect... so don't judge yourself with the mind of a mathematician!

What always amazes me is just how much people are able to get out of the messiness of the real world, and the understanding that can follow. Something you're totally up to. :-)

Best of luck