There comes a time in every grad program where you just don’t really know what to do. This could be while you are doing experiments, studying for exams, looking for jobs, really just anything. Currently, I am feel stuck on a problem trying to justify results that I am getting from an experiment. The results are significant but I can’t really explain what’s happening.
Feeling stuck on something is actually very good. With experimental results, getting stuck gives you an opportunity to look for other ways to look at the problem. This is learning at its finest! It can really be disheartening when you spend a ton of time feeling stuck, but it is all part of the process of becoming a scientist. I wanted to suggest some things on how to work through these moments of feeling stuck. If you are currently having experimental problems, like me, take a look at these ways of dealing with them.
1) Go far away from the problem at hand.
This can literally mean just leave the problem for a bit or stop thinking about it. When I feel stuck, I go on walks. I listen to music and try not to think about what’s frustrating me. Most of the time, my subconscious figures things out for me.
2) After leaving it for a bit, look at all the components of the problem.
Write down the problem, your solutions, as well as anything else that might be important. In experiments, writing down everything that you did may shine light on why you are getting results that are different than what is found in the literature. This also means, write down what data other people are getting too.
3) Stay positive.
So this is important. If your data is different than other people’s, you may have found something out that is quite significant. Tell yourself that this is the case, because if you are negative about what is happening, you may overlook some really cool findings.
4) Keep working at it.
Do not give up on the project/experiments until you have exhausted all possibilities. You might have made a mistake and contaminated the results. Yes, this happens to the best of us. But, you may have also found something really significant. If you give up early, you may not find the answer to your problem.
5) Ask for help
If you are smart, you will ask for help. Problems may have an easy answer that just needs a fresh pair of eyes to look at it. So, ask your adviser what they think or go to your committee members. They may just have the answer you are looking for.
These are problems that no one else has tackled, and you are the one to do it. I think that’s extremely exciting to be honest. I promise you that you will get through whatever it is that’s happening. Just remember that you have survived 100% of the hardships that you have experienced and you’ll survive this one.
If you haven’t checked out my blog about ways to reduce stress, I suggest you do. Who knows, you may need it when tackling hard problems (link here).
**If you or someone you know is suffering from mental health issues, I highly recommend that they seek help. Online-Therapy.com or TalkSpace.com are great ways to reach out to a licensed therapist and get the help needed. Therapy has 100% helped me and I know it can help you.