When You Feel Stuck: Experiments

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

Loneliness in Grad School: What I Do to Combat it

I find it funny how loneliness is such a major contributor to my anxiety, yet, I haven’t really made a post about it. I have talked about it a bit but haven’t given it its own blog post. So, let’s dive deeper into loneliness while you are in grad school, especially in a doctorate program.

Loneliness, to me, is one of the worst feelings that I get. When I feel lonely, things just appear off to me. Colors seem to change and get duller, happiness tends to go away, and an overall sense of sadness kicks in. It is very close to what my depression felt like but not nearly as bad. It is still extremely uncomforting. I used to talk to my therapist all of the time about how lonely I felt, even when I was around a ton of friends. I felt isolated from the world and there wasn’t much I could do to prevent this feeling. My therapist would always reassure me and tell me that this is a common occurrence among grad students. I wanted to know why and I eventually found out.

One obvious reason you will feel lonely is because you will be by yourself quite often. You will be in the lab by yourself, writing by yourself, and possibly even going home to be by yourself. I know many grad students that live alone so they often really feel lonely. Another reason you will experience loneliness is because the project that you are working on is not well known. Maybe it is, but more than likely people will not know what you are doing or why you are doing this. It is hard to talk about it with people because they just won’t understand what you are doing and don’t really relate to the very different struggles that grad students face. I find it extremely isolating to bring up grad school with my family because they just don’t know what questions to ask or give advice, since they have not been in my position before.

There is hope! You don’t have to feel lonely if you learn to love the time you spend by yourself. I tell myself all of the time that i might be alone, but I am not lonely. I have to truly believe it though and I have gotten to the point where I definitely am believing it. Being alone can be extremely comforting if you look at it as a positive experience. Next time you are alone, doing experiments or just in your office, say out loud (yes out loud), “Sweet, I am alone. That means I won’t have distractions and will get my work done” or “Being alone is awesome because I don’t have to deal with nasty people”. Of course you can come up with whatever you want but make sure it is positive. I often say “Great, I am alone. Now I can watch a movie without being interrupted”. I watch movies every other Tuesday, while in the lab. If someone else was here, I couldn’t enjoy that time.

Make friends with other grad students. I know this is a bit of a difficult one but you just need to do it. other grad students will know exactly what you are going through. They often feel the same way and a friend will help you feel less lonely. It will also help them feel less lonely. I have made several grad school friends and they all have moments of loneliness. I get texts from them all of the time when they are alone, just reaching out to feel less lonely. It is comforting to know you have someone to talk to.

Use the time that you have by yourself to mediate and find inner peace. Being alone is a great time to just “be”. Be in the moment, be in solitude, and really dig deep into who you are. You can find out a ton about yourself that you didn’t even know. This advice is scary because often people what to distract themselves from themselves. This will lead to problems later on. Meditation can be a great experience to reduce loneliness because you won’t be alone, you’ll be with the best person in your life, yourself. I have used meditation to figure out underlying issues in my life and am a better person for it.

I hope you don’t experience loneliness while you’re in grad school, but if you do, I hope you find this helpful. Grad school is long but it can be fun. You just need to put in some work and you can create an awesome experience for yourself.