Mar 16, 2010
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i guess this is more of a rant than a questions, but i would still appreciate input .....
i have been in the lab for 2.5 yrs and have not had a spectacular time, exactly. about one year ago, i finally got some interesting experimental data which i pursued and it has been quite fruitful. however, to make my project stronger, i am trying to do some computational modeling of my phenomenon.
i am not trained as a mathematician or any sort of theorist, and neither is my mentor. i have been having technical issues with this last part of the project and just cannot figure it out on my own. i have been pressing my mentor for help, but most of the time instead of giving me suggestions or answering my questions, he just asks ME questions (that cannot be answered without answering my questions first or that are just a permutation of my question).
needless to say, this has been frustrating for me. i press him for help, he asks the same question back, and i just say "look, that's what i'm asking you". today he snapped at me saying that i should never expect him to have any answers for any of my questions, ever. this is pretty upsetting to me, because if you need help/advice/answers, who should you go to, if not your mentor????? i'm not so much upset about the issues with my project, as i am about the way my mentor has handled it recently. i mean, is it justified to tell your student that they shouldn't expect any help from you???? :confused:
maybe i'm being too needy as a grad student. he has helped me during the experimental part of my project, but ever since i started modeling, he has been of no help whatsoever.
PS: my lab is a small lab - 5 ppl including my mentor. and 3 of us are grad students. so my mentor is dependent on our projects being successful to get grants!
 
Last edited:

Freak

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In terms of your mentor ... I don't really know what to say. It seems kind of harsh in some ways (although in others, I guess what he might be trying to do is to make you an "independant scientist").

What I can suggest in terms of your project is to collaborate with someone who has the sort of expertise that you require ... your school probably has biostats / computational biology people. I would try to set up a collaboration with them to figure out how to analyze the data (it will be a mutually benefitial relationship).

If you post up a little more info, maybe people on the board might have some expertise in the matter.
 

z31

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I understand your frustration, but it's true that your mentor shouldn't have to have the answers to everything. You've done the first step by trying to work it out yourself, but the next step is to be proactive about searching for collaborators. Who knows, if you find strong biostats/comp modeling people, it could be the start of a long-term mutually beneficial relationship for both lab.
 

whiteshadodw

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i dno if this is an option, but try to find out which professors are supportive of students. some professors just love being helpful to students regardless of whether they are in their lab or not.
 
Mar 16, 2010
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MD/PhD Student
thanks for the input .... yea, i agree that finding a collaborator is the best option at this point. unfortunately i'm at an institution/department with only 2 other professors who have had experience with work that is somewhat similar to what i'm doing. and here nobody does anything for free. they may be helpful, but it's just sort of embarassing because my model is based on analysis techniques that my mentor has used and published before (which is why i thought, if i can't figure this problem out, he should be able to). this just kind of shows that he doesn't fully understand the mathematical background of these analysis techniques.
we have always had a very friendly and open relationship with each other and i am sad that he basically telling me to &$*# off at this point.
 

z31

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we have always had a very friendly and open relationship with each other and i am sad that he basically telling me to &$*# off at this point.
You being engaged enough in your project to ask for help isn't going to poison any decent relationship, don't worry :). Just -- now that you know he's not comfortable/able to help you, you need to try other routes.

For example, you don't need to look within your institution. If your professor was on the papers etc, ask if he can introduce you via email or phone to the person on the paper who, er, actually did the actual analysis that you're interested in.
 

Freak

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It is quite difficult for a professor to actually know the nitty gritty details of computational analyses (as there are so many caveats normally if you talk to the people who actually do it).

I agree with z31, you probably need the boots on the ground person who did it (and you can also be proactive and contact them yourself too ... they might be able to give you more support as well).

In terms of the comp people ... there are 3 things they might want in return.
1. Name on the paper (which if they help significantly with the analysis ... that is probably not unreasonable). I have declined the offer before, if it only took me an hour worth of work (or I was no longer able to complete the project), but maybe I am just a nice guy :p
2. Reciprocity. Many computational people need help experimentally validating one of their projects, so you might be able to work out a barter/trade.
3. Food. If you talk to them and the issue rather simple (from their perspective), you might be able to bribe them with a meal ... food=love.
 
Mar 15, 2010
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Post Doc
When you are looking for help from other labs / departments, aim low. I often found that lab heads had little time or inclination to help me in detail, but that post-docs or staff researchers or assistant professors were much more approachable.

If modeling is a significant part of your project, you might get someone on board by adding them to your qualifying committee or dissertation committee.

This isn't likely much comfort, but grad school, especially in pursuit of a PhD, requires a lot of running into problems and techniques for which you have to self-train, and this struggle can be extensive. My project took off into areas totally outside the experience of my advisor. While he was supportive and asked insightful questions, I had to make contacts on my own and figure out how to proceed (with lots of false starts). You will get there eventually.