Progress Report: This year sucked

It’s that time of year again, at least in my department, where we are reminded to fill out our yearly progress report. Which is always odd, because who thinks of the school year as being from January to December?

Anyway, I’m so tempted to log in and write a single line. “This year sucked.”

But, I also know that I can’t do that. Well, I could, but I’d just end up being asked to fix it anyway and add more detail. So there’s no point, since it’d just be prolonging the inevitable.

I do know, that I don’t feel like I have a lot to report on. Because as I look back over this year, I feel like it pretty much happened in this order: write and re-write code, test it, get bad results, repeat. It really feels like a very unsuccessful year, which makes it not at all motivating to write a summary down somewhere for people to judge you.

It feels really frustrating to look back at the year, and how much work I put in, and realize I have almost nothing to show for it. (Almost nothing – I did manage to do one of my mandatory seminars this year.) I ran three different experiments, with over 200 different participants, and I don’t have a single publishable result from any of it.

My supervisor, when we were discussing how bad the recent results were, tried to be placating when he said “but this can still all go in your thesis.” And while I know he’s right, I can put it in there, it doesn’t make it any better. Because it’ll go in a section of “we tried x, y, and z, only to find out they all failed because of a, b, and c.” So sure, I learned something from it, but not enough that someone is going to turn around and say “awesome, let’s give her a PhD.”

At the beginning of September, before I ran those last two experiments, I was actually somewhat hopeful that I was about a year away from graduating. I thought the experiments were going to work out. And then I’d be about ready to start thinking about writing up. But now, when I look over my candidacy, I feel like I’ve actually gone two steps backwards. And I’m right where I was over a year ago. No closer to being done. And delaying my graduating that much more.

While I know I need this break. And I’m glad I’m on it. I also feel like not having any resolution, not discussing what my options are, not knowing where to go from here, is going to weigh on my shoulders the entire time. I think I better make an appointment and have a serious discussion with my supervisor. Where do we go from here? What can we salvage? Is it time for another pivot and course correction?

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3 thoughts on “Progress Report: This year sucked

  1. I think (as someone who is now a graduate advisor) this is a successful semester/year. You ran experiments, you ran and fixed code. An unsuccessful semester would be one where no research was done whatsoever. Results are not always the measure of effort!

  2. I agree with psycgirl. I sometimes find myself feeling like I’m not making any progress. But I’ve found that creating those end of year results often ends up making me feel better. It’s all about counting the small successes. Presentations you’ve had, experiments you ran, even a paper submission is a success in my book. I’ve started coming to terms with the fact that any intellectual pursuit, especially something like a PhD, if just not as linear a process as it appears from the outside or in hindsight. There are setbacks, frustrations, disappointments. It’s all a part of the journey.

  3. Thanks both of you. It’s really easy to be hard on yourself, especially when things didn’t work out even close to how you wanted them to go. I have started on my progress report, and it’s helping to write down all the small things I’ve accomplished, to remind myself that it wasn’t all bad.

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