Jump to content

How to push for progress?

Tall Chai Latte

Recommended Posts

Hi all,

I am a biochemist in a cell biology group, doing work very different from the rest of the lab (more specifically, my background is structural biology work, and what i do is important to answer the scientific question overall). When I need to run experiment, our collaborator handles all of the data acquisition because I am not allowed access to the instrument. Because the collaborator is quite busy with research from his other collaborations as well as research from his own lab, my experiments are often time pushed back/delayed. Majority of my thesis is based on this particular technique with this collaborator, I am afraid that this will become the rate-limiting step of my progress. While my PI fully supports me, structural biology is not her field of expertise, which leaves me to do all the sample preps/troubleshooting/data analyses alone. Occasionally the collaborator will provide some insights or answer questions that I have, but as I mentioned before, he is very busy, and the feedback I get is somewhat limited.

In this situation, what can I do to ensure the smooth progression of my thesis work? I am eager to move forward and get my thesis off the ground, but this kind of delays/push-backs due to unanticipated schedule conflicts has happened many times. While I have some autonomy to some extend, I am really not in total control of how fast my project progress. What can I do?

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Is it possible for you to find another collaborator to help you with the project?

It sounds like a tough situation but I am sure your advisor knows the context of your progress!

Best of luck!

Link to comment
Share on other sites

You can take this comment as a grain of salt since

1. this may not apply to cell+structural bio research,

2. you heard this before/already knew this, and

3. this is way off from answering your question.

What I would do is to study the biophysics of my "subject" (e.g. protein, cells, w/e) while I'm waiting to solve the structure of it. Biophysics vary from the ligands/substrates binding activity/behavior, binding characters/specificity, interactions with another (same/different) protein/cell, stability of the "subject", specific function(s) of the "subject", etc. You can do all these things ("small experiments") without knowing the structure of your "subject". However, knowing both the functions/biophysics and structure will ultimately allow you to draw the big, entire picture about your "subject". So may be you can do that while you're waiting for your data from the structural-determination experiment(s) ("big experiment(s)").

Meanwhile, I think you should try to get hands-on experience on those structural work even if your PI isn't in that field. It will help a lot when it comes to troubleshooting problems (e.g. sample preparation) and data analysis (after data acquisition). Assuming that your collaborator will not do any work on solving the structure (a.k.a. you are on your own), you will definitely need to know the basis of the experiment in order to help you to solve the structure (I guess EM is a semi-exception?) But regardless, solving any structure is extremely time consuming (except watson-crick base paired DNA/RNA) so if you can prepare yourself in that part then you'll be prepared when you actually got the data from the "big experiment" and try to solve the structure.

Edited by aberrant
Link to comment
Share on other sites

So, is it impossible for you to get trained on this instrument so you can actually use it?

I've done that with several "bottlenecks" in my work- I'm in a similar position, being the only one in my biological chemistry group that does cell work.

But I found that after spending some time down at our medical school with our collaborators, learning the instruments, and getting people to trust me, I was able to get time to use them myself. Might not be a possibility for you, but it might be worth looking into.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

  • 1 month later...

Hi everyone! TCL here again.

There is some new development since my original post. RIght now, my PI has found me another prof (someone else other than our collaborator) to help me with all the technical stuff. During our discussion, this guy came off insisting that we do things his way or not doing it at all. While this could mean I get to learn from someone who is regarded as a true expert in the field, at the end of the day, I'm still working on the biological question that my lab set out to answer... Still being confined within the research boundary.

I guess at my current stage (I'm will be a third-year starting September), I'm yet to be mature enough intellectually to proceed with my own new ideas and directions. With my PI's nature being somewhat impatient and wanting to do everything fast, it hasn't been easy for me to convey all the nitty-gritty obstacles related to a field she doesn't know well, without her thinking I'm just looking for excuses on why things didn't work the way she envisioned. Maybe Eigen can answer this from your experience: how do I (or how did you) get the PI on board to understand that things aren't as simple as she thought, just like her own expertise, without coming off as know-it-all? If she decides to pull the plug on this project, the lost may be small for the lab as a whole, but I'd lose my thesis project. I'm more than willing to learn everything else that my lab has to offer, but at the current stage, it looks like my PI just want to fully utilize my background.

Sounds a little like a rant.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Maybe Eigen can answer this from your experience: how do I (or how did you) get the PI on board to understand that things aren't as simple as she thought, just like her own expertise, without coming off as know-it-all?


(I am currently drinking a soy chai latte myself!)

I am sorry to hear about your problems. it is very frustrating how others can road block us with our work. grad school is filled with these bumps and frustrations. I am in no way informed about your field or really have experience with this kind of situation, but I just wanted to lend you a bit of support with some warm fuzzy "!!!!!!!!! :) !!!!!!!* and comment on your above statement in a general sense.

I can remember when I was doing my MA my advisor was constantly complaining that the tasks that his students were doing shouldn't take as long as they were. I think it is common for supervisors who have been out of the nitty gritty hands on componenets of research, to be unaware of how things work, and the time that it takes (the realistic time!) I think this feeling that your advisor doesn't have a realistic timeline for some of your tasks is a feeling that a lot of us have.

good luck! I hope things work out! :)

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Thanks Dal PhDer for the quick response! I just posted it this morning lol.

Yes, I think PIs don't have a realistic sense of how much time it should take to complete things. But on the up side, at least she is (or at least willing to) using her network to solve the road blocks.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Create an account or sign in to comment

You need to be a member in order to leave a comment

Create an account

Sign up for a new account in our community. It's easy!

Register a new account

Sign in

Already have an account? Sign in here.

Sign In Now
  • Create New...

Important Information

By using this site, you agree to our Terms of Use and Privacy Policy.