General Question

nikipedia's avatar

When does perseverence cross the line into stupidity?

Asked by nikipedia (27481points) June 6th, 2009

I know exactly what I want to do for a living. I know the lab I want to work in and the experiments I want to do in it. I have been working there for free on the weekends for the last 10 weeks because I have a project that I love and really want to finish.

We found out this week that the lab absolutely, positively, for sure has no money until the fall at the earliest, and that is the best case scenario.

So do I keep working for free and get another job to support myself and wait for things to work themselves out, or jump ship?

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16 Answers

_bob's avatar

I need more information. Do you need the money? How long before you finish the project? Can it be finished somewhere else?

casheroo's avatar

Can you work during the week somewhere else, making some money? Or is school too time consuming?
I’d stay with it, because you love it. It’s your passion.

Jeruba's avatar

I second the request for clarifying information.

I would also say that perseverance might well cross the line into impracticality before it reaches the point of stupidity. In fact, it might never reach stupidity and still have to be given up. But in general and especially in the realm of the sciences I would be inclined to express that limitation in years, not weeks.

nikipedia's avatar

@bob_: I was intentionally kind of vague, because the details get complicated. I’m a first year graduate student, and I need to permanently join a lab…now. Permanently technically means for the duration of my PhD, but effectively means for the rest of my career. Whatever work I do now will be the foundation for what I work on for the rest of my career.

The money has two components: one, I need money to live on. Graduate students in my department are supposed to be supported by their labs because our job is to do research. Technically, I’m not allowed to have an outside job, but given the circumstances I think they’d look the other way if it came down to that.

The second part is harder. I also need money to do my experiments. That is not a problem I can work around.

_bob's avatar

@nikipedia Then I’d say you should find another lab. Cut your losses and jump ship.

Darwin's avatar

You may either have to find another lab, one that has money, or go to the head of the lab you want to be in with a viable grant proposal, get him to review and submit it (it will need to have a PhD scientist as the principal investigator even if you are the one doing all the work) and hope the money comes in that then can support both you and your research in that lab.

If you can do that, I guarantee that it will look very, very good on your C.V.

Besides, that is what PhD-holders who stay involved in research do. They put together grant proposals and get them accepted. That funding then helps run their own lab and finance their own research as well as that of any graduate students working in their lab.

Jeruba's avatar

Is it the sort of thing a corporation might fund?

YARNLADY's avatar

I don’t see an either/or situation here. Continue with what you have been doing, look for another opportunity, and hope for the best.

La_chica_gomela's avatar

@nikipedia: Have you talked to your advisor or your department head? You might get some good advice given your specific situation or find out something new.

Also, do you know the reason for the lack of funding? If it’s just the economy and NSF suffering like everyone else you have a tough decision to make. A lot of my friends are having similar problems. If it’s a subset where the money is drying up, then you need to look for another lab ASAP.

Whatever you do, I would try to avoid getting an outside during grad school. You really need to focus on your career. (As I’m sure you know) the work you do right now will set the groundwork for your entire career.

La_chica_gomela's avatar

(Just adding to my previous answer) Or talked to the PI at the lab, if different from your advisor?

nikipedia's avatar

@Darwin: Long-term, that would be a great solution. But I have gotten my last paycheck and am going to need another one before any fellowship/grant could be written, submitted, reviewed, and approved.

@Jeruba: Not so much.

@La_chica_gomela: Yeah. No one has a solution. The person in charge of my program basically told me to go to another lab and tell them I’m deeply passionate about and committed to their work so they’d take me on. I feel less than great about that.

The funding problem is partially the shitty economy and partially a lack of foresight. The R01 that usually funds my lab got a score that would have been funded at any other point in history; it didn’t make the cutoff this time. Normally, the department would step in and bail out the lab at this point, but I go to a public school in California, and the UCs have to cut $500 million from a $3 billion budget. So our department has less than $0 and can’t help. It would have been better if the PI (who is my adviser) had a safety net and other grants for a rainy day, but he doesn’t and it’s too late for that now.

The only reason I’m considering getting an outside job is because it might come down to that or leaving altogether. Things are really bad. :(

La_chica_gomela's avatar

What a shitty situation! I’m so sorry you’re having to make such a difficult decision! I know how hard it can be to find a subset that you’re passionate about and a PI whose working style works with yours and that you get along with, and that actually wants you to be their grad student. And after all that, this. <shakes head.>

I guess it seems like your best option is to investigate some of the other labs in your field, and see if maybe there is another one that would work for you. You can base your decision on whether to switch or not at least in part on if you could see yourself working on the types of research these other labs are doing, and perhaps switch when the project you’re working on now is done? I wish I had any better ideas for you. :(

mattbrowne's avatar

Perseverance is a good thing. I would recommend a dual strategy. Switch your dream job to back burner mode and work on something for which there’s a huge demand. Times are always changing and at some point you might be able to continue your dream job.

wundayatta's avatar

If you go to another lab, they’ll know where you were, and they might ask you why you want to change. They’ll probably also know your previous lab has no money. So it seems to me that the option of pretending to love another line of research probably won’t cut the mustard. You’ll have to be honest, and then you might not get hired, unless they are really short-handed and take someone on temporarily.

I don’t think the consequences of doing another line of research are as bad as you describe. There are ways of changing what you do in your career. Some of the most interesting people do that a lot.

Would it be possible, as far as the school is concerned, to stay on with the lab for a few months (really only a little more than two, unless you mean fall of next year) until you get funded again? As you say, you can work outside and they should turn their heads away. It’ll be a lot of stress, but eventually it will stop. Unless your lab never gets funded, in which case, it’s all mute. Or, maybe you could take a leave of absence, if the bureaucratic bullshit and stress is too difficult to cope with.

nikipedia's avatar

@daloon: This is what I’m leaning toward—quietly working over the summer and waiting it out until the lab gets funded again. My primary hesitation is that there isn’t any guarantee that this will actually happen. It may get some Obama money in the fall, or it may get its R01 renewed on its third (and final) submission, which would hit around December. But if both of those fall through I will be in an even worse position to try to find another lab, and will have wasted my time.

wundayatta's avatar

Wasted your time? I don’t think so. You may not have found your research focus for the rest of your life, but you’ve learned a lot, and have useful skills you didn’t have before. Believe me, these things make you more useful, not less. It’s not a waste of time. It just sets your timetable back a bit, but so what? Life is about the journey, not getting there.

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