All I want for Christmas is an air compressor

Today was the last day of the autumn term. For students on taught courses, that basically means it’s home time – no more lectures or essays until the end of January. Research students have access to the department until midday on Christmas Eve, though I doubt most people will still be around by then. I still have some things to wrap up next week to make sure my experiments are raring to go once the university opens up again on the 4th January. I was supposed to be finishing off a set of experiments this week, actually, but fate conspired against me. Or, more accurately, my equipment did.

Thanks for nothing, equipment.

I mentioned before that the air compressor I was using had to go see the air compressor doctor (i.e. an engineer), and that I replaced it with a temporary fix. Well, the compressor has not returned yet, and my temporary fix has demonstrated why it was meant to be temporary. It ran out. My cultures weren’t growing right anyway, I’m sure they knew it was getting close to the holidays and decided it would be fun to play with me. So, I had to resign and call it quits on this batch of plankton. It was a frustrating moment, since I was essentially admitting that the last month’s work had been a waste of time and effort. All of that, and I get nothing? I just wasted a month of my PhD on nothing!

I feel like I need to make every single moment, every single experiment, count. When I started in October, I thought 3 years was a long time. Then we had this welcome talk, and in one of the presentations, someone said, “You have 36 months.” I sat bolt upright, with what I’m sure was a look of pure terror in my eyes. 36 months?! When you put it like that, it seems like no time at all… in fact, I’ve already ploughed through 3 of those, so I’m already down to 33. And one of those was a wasted month, as we’ve established. This is bad…

…Or so I thought. I explained the spectacular way in which my experiment had completely and utterly failed to my friend Sarah. It turned out that Sarah had recently spoken to a friend of ours who had just passed her viva. She had told Sarah that she didn’t even collect any data that she used in her thesis until her third year. Her third year! Most of her PhD was spent making mistakes, ironing out methods, and actually figuring out what she was even trying to write her thesis on. It certainly made me feel better about my experiment, but now that I think about it, it’s also a little disheartening. I was hoping as time passed, the feeling of having no clue what I’m doing or talking about would be eventually fade… seems I just have to get used to it instead!

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2 thoughts on “All I want for Christmas is an air compressor

  1. Don’t worry – at the start of my PhD I believed I would be generating results all the time, I’m in my second year and I don’t have anything near the amount of decent data I had hoped or would like! Right up until a couple of months ago I persisted with the idea that I could start an experiment at the beginning of a month and do the prep, then run it, then write up the data…and all by the end of the month! It never happens and I still beat myself up about it. Many, many people I’ve spoken to didn’t start getting good experimental results until into second or even third year…it’s just one of the frustrations of doing a PhD.

    Em (www.sowhataboutseaweed.wordpress.com and Sarah’s old housemate!)

    • Haha, thanks for the reply! I meant to reply to this a while ago, it did actually give me some relief! Especially as my practical work has now fallen behind schedule…
      And Sarah showed me your blog, I really like it!!

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