Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Pulling through?

What are supervisors for?

We rely on them to tell us, when our research proposal is narrow enough to fit into a PhD and not a "plan for a project to end all projects" anymore. We need them to tell us when to stop reading and start writing / running experiments. As they are experts in the academic process, we still take their word for it when they say there's now enough for a PhD, you're done.

In the course of our work, we usually dive in deeper to our own fields than our supervisors, and especially towards the end know more about our work than they do. Yet, when we run into trouble, the supervisors are the ones to help us out.

I met mine yesterday, explained the data crisis I had, and now I hope we have a plan that hopefully leads to a solution. It's all the brilliant meta-skills that he has that made this happen, rather than knowing an answer off the shelf. For me, I know best what's going on in that data, as I've spent the sleepless hours with it, but having someone to explain it to helps organise it in my mind. And as with my colleagues, answering questions about the "problem" is very useful. And so, after about an hour of discussion, I was able to come up with a sort of a plan, drawing from what he and my colleagues had suggested. And for me it is very important that he "accepted" the plan. It gives me a better feeling to do the work now that I know that he also thinks it's the right way forward.

And it is the relief this brings that has helped me to get on with it rather than go over the various options and worry about the project.

I think the worst thing about this data-issue (see, not a 'crisis' anymore, just 'issue'...) is that I really wasn't mentally prepared to have to do this kind of stuff at this stage. During my course, I've spent countless boring hours going through data, preparing it for analysis, writing snippets of code to automatise the most tedious bits etc. This in many ways has felt like a total waste of life, although of course it's part of this line of work. And now I was (naively, perhaps) expecting to just tweak the data, go to the analysis and keep writing. After a struggle to get started, I had managed to get into a flow with it, and so this total standstill was especially frustrating.

Well, now armed with the ideas and support from my supervisor and my colleagues, and a newly 'iTuned' album of Gideon Kremer playing Bach I'll get to the plan.

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