Sunday, May 24, 2009

Committee Meetings, Experiments, and Thesis-ing! Oh My!

I had a committee meeting on Monday. It actually went fairly well. I was very worried about it because I haven't made much progress over the past 8 months (the meeting was delayed because of extenuating circumstances, see: the month of March). I put together my presentation outlining what I've been doing during this time. It added up to about 22 slides showing a variety of results (ranging from good to bad). My committee didn't seem too unhappy and they were more than willing to sign off on the "making adequate progress" line. Overall, I considered it a not bad meeting.

However, all of my committee member brought up the dreaded, "When do you think you'll graduate?" question. It would appear that they have not read The Guide to Proper Grad School Etiquette. Advisor answered their question with, "About next summer." This was news to me. I considered next summer at the earliest, if every thing went according to plan. I thought a more realistic goal was next fall-- 2010 (in fact, I was told that this was a more realistic goal. I don't know why Advisor said next summer? 5.5 years is about average, so I don't think my taking that long would make him look bad. I must be the first grad student ever who was horrified to learn that his/her advisor thought they could graduate earlier than they thought. But I digress. A lot.). This has led to a minor freak out on my behalf. I've got a list of things-- about 3 pages long-- of experiments to do before I graduate. The majority of my freak out has centered around the following two thoughts: (1) To get all this done by next summer, everything has to go perfectly and I can never leave the lab, and (2) If I take longer than next summer, will my committee be angry? I'm trying to take deep breaths and picture a happy place.

Along those same lines, Advisor wants me to start writing. He's wanted me to start writing since I joined the lab. I hate writing. A. Lot. So, I haven't taken him up on his advice. Now, he wants me to turn in the draft of one of my chapters by Friday. It's not too unreasonable because I have most of it written (I had a paper published on this project, so I just have to add some stuff and format it), but isn't it a bit premature to start writing a year before I have any hope of graduating? Or heck, even before I have a projected graduation date? Or before I have all the data?

15 comments:

ScienceGirl said...

Sounds like that particular chapter won't be changing over the next year, so why not?

Congrats on a successful committee meeting - I don't think they would be asking the "when" question if they didn't think you were getting close!

EthidiumBromide said...

At least around here, I have never heard of a committee being upset that an ETA of graduation is not met. In fact, most wind up being pushed back 6 months - 1 year from the initial date presented to the committee. I think it's just a fact of graduate school -- 99% of the time, the perfect conditions are not met, an experiment goes awry, and you spend an extra 3 months troubleshooting. And then the same thing happens somewhere else along the line, and next thing you know, you're half a month behind. PIs around here have come to expect it, but rather than add an extra year to compensate, would rather push up the date (to keep students on their toes, I suppose -- if your advisor said you had an extra year built in, you wouldn't be feeling the need to rush so much, would you?).

Unbalanced Reaction said...

It is a little unusual to start writing that early, but it sounds like Advisor is really in tune with your self-proclaimed dislike of writing. So that is actually pretty awesome that Advisor is being so supportive! :-)

Psych Post Doc said...

In my personal opinion it is never too early to start writing. Sure you don't have all the data but you have some of the data. It may change a lot between now and graduation but you'll be much happier a year from now to be editing and doing a little bit of new writing than you would be faced with a whole dissertation to write. Especially if you really do hate to write.

Nicky said...

I wrote a ridiculously complete thesis "proposal" when ~65% of my thesis work was done. It took a while, but it turns out that I'll be able to use 90% of what I wrote in my final thesis, so a good chunk of my thesis writing was already done by the time my committee signed off on my proposal. Two years before my target graduation date. I'm sure it will need a lot of additions once that last pesky third of the research work is done, but it feels AWESOME knowing that I'm not starting from scratch with the writing.

So, um, yeah, I say that your advisor has exactly the right idea, especially if you dislike writing. :)

Jennie said...

Start writing now!! I spent the last year of grad school pretty much ONLY writing and coming from a fellow hater of writing, try to spread the pain out-it will be less depressing.

scicurious said...

LOL. My advisor has been saying I'll graduate "in four months or so" for the past year and a half. Don't fret over such things, they don't mean it and no one takes them seriously. Graduate when you're ready and when the work is done. The only time you need to have a really solid ETG Is when you're interviewing for post-docs.

Albatross said...

I was also horrified when my advisor suggested I could graduate earlier than I planned. There was a lot of "what? I'm not ready! How can you not see that I'm not ready!" from me.

It doesn't seem too early to start writing. Since you dislike writing, maybe starting a program now (15 minutes a day or whatever) will make you more comfortable with it by the time the really intensive writing time comes along.

Amelie said...

Great that they were happy with your progress! And I wouldn't be surprised if PIs promised early graduation dates in public to put some more pressure on us...

PhizzleDizzle said...

just wanted to chime in and agree with everyone! no one will hold it against you for not hitting advisor's proposed target, and just start writing - think of it as less writing you'll have to do later, when you really are stressed about finishing.

ScientistMother said...

Sounds like you had a great meeting!! I totLly agree with everyone else about it never being to early to start writing. The more you get done now, the less you will have to push through when you are at the point of just not caring.

Amanda@Lady Scientist said...

Science Girl: That's true. Maybe they think I'm getting close. That's a better way of looking at it. :-)

EtBr: That's true. It's definitely a motivator. I probably would be much less motivated if he told me that I had another two years or so left.

UR: I do dislike writing. It's the whole staring at a blank screen and being expected to produce something brilliant that scares me. And Advisor definitely knows that. :-)

Psych Post Doc: Very true. And this chapter is very unlikely to change at all. Anything else I do will just be minor add-ins. So, in the long run it'll help. It's just... eww... writing.

Nicky: That's what I need to focus on. How happy I'll be once I've got a good amount of material. Instead of focusing on how much I'd rather be working on the baby blanket for my friend (or, you know, anything else).

Jennie: I take heart that a fellow hater of writing made it through ;-) (Seriously, I'm keeping that in mind.)

Scicurious: If Advisor started throwing around months, I'd freak. But you're right. I'm not looking at post-docs, so it shouldn't be that big of a deal.

Albatross: I'm glad that I'm not the only one! Labmate was very bemused with me when I got back from my committee meeting.

Amelie: And it works! I'm definitely feeling the pressure.

PhizzleDizzle: Less writing. That sounds great. Again something for me to focus on :-)

Scientist Mother: You definitely have me pegged. I'm likely to get to that point sooner rather than later.

JaneB said...

Definitely time to get writing! The more you do it, the more it'll become boring rather than scary. remember that you're aiming for a thesis which is DONE, not one which is PERFECT, and just put something down on paper. Sounds like you advisor has your best interests at heart by making you get started now - it's SO much better to be writing AND labworking than JUST writing, so starting now means less just-writing agony later

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Latasha Matney said...

You certainly had a lot of things to do on that day, Amanda! Well, I hope that everything went accordingly to what you plans have. I think it was a great thesis help that your advisor always talk to you. They can really be the one you need if your face a blank wall on thesis writing. Anyway, what happened to your thesis anyway? Did you already graduated from grad school?