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042: I’m a Fifth Year, and I’m Stuck in a Rut

The good news is that your research project has gone well over the last few years, and you got your paper published.

The bad news is that you published everything in that one paper, and you’re out of ideas.

And you’re five years into the program.

And your PI doesn’t want to help you anymore.

How, exactly, are you supposed to get your research project out of the rut and back on track so you can graduate?

Choose your rut wisely – you’ll be in it for the next 30 miles…

Fasten Your Seatbelts

That was the question posed by a listener this week.  And he’s probably not alone.

Dear Josh and Dan,

I am about to finish my fifth year in graduate school. We published my work several months ago in a good journal but I currently feel like I am in a rut.

I started writing my manuscript early last year and it took over eight months and multiple rounds of peer review before the manuscript was finally published. The reviewers asked for more and more until, eventually, almost everything I’d worked on since joining the lab became included in the paper. It makes the paper great but it didn’t leave me much of a jumping off point for my next experiments. In fact, all of my proposed leads became dead ends.

I’ve been working on more experiments but nothing has gone anywhere in over six months, which is really disheartening. Teaching responsibilities and other assignments have kept me from being able to focus on research like I used to be able to. Further, it feels like my adviser is no longer interested in my project. The only thing they want to talk about is another lab mate’s work and how something minor in my work tangentially relates to that work they are more excited about.

I guess I’m writing because I am not totally sure what to do. I saw the light at the end but now I don’t. Do you have any suggestions for students in a rut like me?

Sound familiar?

First, we can commiserate about the glacial pace some journals take to get a paper published.  The constant back and forth with reviewers can ruin the excitement you once had for your results.

But more importantly, we think the listener needs to change his focus: instead of finding ways to restart his research project, he should start taking steps toward graduation.

Tune into this episode for more ideas on getting a project unstuck, or share your story with us by email.  We’re here to help!

Here Be Dragons

To celebrate the latest season of Game of Thrones, we’re drinking Seven Kingdoms Hoppy Wheat Ale from Ommegang Brewery in Cooperstown, NY.  It’s not clear what this beer has in common with the George R. R. Martin novels or the TV show, but it’s got a cork, and it’s pretty tasty!

Winter is coming!  Er… actually summer is coming, but you catch my drift.

And as promised, here is the ‘heartless’ cashew nut in fruit!



One thought to “042: I’m a Fifth Year, and I’m Stuck in a Rut”

  1. Great work! That’s fantastic!
    I guess these are the words we should say when our work is now recognized by the scientific community and more importantly add another brick in the pyramid of science. It looks you worked so hard to get your paper out . I know graduates who graduate without even an abstract. The next move for you is to focus on your thesis and at the same time try to help the new student in his new project. The is will be a win-win situation for you. It will show your mentor that you care about his lab and at the same time it will a great chance for you to practice mentorship.
    In conclusion, always look at the bright side and will see things differently…

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