So one of the things that is suggested in the blog (and just about everywhere else), is to maintain a blog oneself. Well I clearly have a blog, but it has never been maintained and it has rarely been beneficial to me. Before hand I wanted to write things to entertain others. Now I hope my blog takes on a more functional role: To monitor and quantify my progress with my thesis - and hopefully allow me to track where I am and not get lost in the ultimate "bigness" of it.
So... (the ultimate unspoken question of a researcher) how's research?
Well, in the first week of the year I wrote up my master's proposal. It was detailed, took me about 3 days and I felt very good about it. Not only that, but my supervisor was very impressed by it. In my proposal I had a very detailed (and unique) schedule. I chose, rather than schedule deadlines, to estimate the number of days each task would take me - and thus make it more flexible to sick days and such. Each day was only 5 hours (to cater for the fact I also have part-time lecturing duties). From my estimation, the thesis would take me about a year and 3 months to complete if I was diligent.
Unfortunately, although I created this wonderful schedule, I am afraid to look at it. I know for a fact I have lost about 30 days... an important 30 days or so of my thesis - most likely more. This is the result of a conference paper I had to publish, general getting settled into my new lifestyle as a lecturer and master's student and university delays - such as getting the laboratory setup (which is still underway). So now I have a schedule I don't look at.
In my proposal, I had written up my problem statement as far as I knew how it went. It felt valid enough - even though I knew it required a few more consultation with mining experts (and yes, my master's thesis has to do with the use of swarm robotics in a gold mining context) as well as a far amount of reading about swarm robotics and foraging.
So after a month of trying to nail down "What problem am I actually trying to solve?" - I've spoken to mining experts, geologists, looked at diagrams, read loads of papers on swarm robotics and foraging, I'd thought I'd happily written up my problem. Until the next day I read over it again and was full of doubts. I doubt the purpose behind my experiments. I doubt if I am really researching anything new. I feel so insecure and overwhelmed that I have reached a complete stand still (hence the emergency call for action to write a blog and pray for progress ). I'm too afraid to look at the literature. As The Thesis Whisperer so well described, in the blog post Reading like a mongrel, us students end up in a "reading death spiral". I'm at the point where I fear to look at another journal paper again, just to have its facts strewn around my brain in a big tornado.
I had "read" through tons and tons of material. Or so I had thought. I looked back on what I had read and I had simply made my way through about a total of 6 articles and skimmed through about another 6. And in the process I have increased my reading list by about 60 more papers I need to read. And it took me 2 months to get through those 6.
On the plus side, I have written up a fair amount of what I have read, but none of it feels good enough and none of it reads properly (in my opinion).
So, not only do I not look at my schedule because I know I'm so behind, I'm refusing to look at my problem and I fear looking at my overwhelming reading list or everything I have written (and if I do look and what I have written I spend ages panicking over every sentence).
So what was left? My simulation software which I have been slowly learning and my robots. So cute. Bless their cotton socks! However, after running a few existing simulations and running those simulations on the real robots (and trying to understand existing example code) I realized the depth I'm wading through NOT HAVING EVER DONE a course in robotics. I thought I'd be able to catch on with only the bits I need, but now I have come to think that I actually need a full introductory course on normal robotics - messing around with only a single one of my robots. This is of course a very frightening prospect.
So out of fear I am doing nothing. I am currently at home (it's the Easter holidays - which I had scheduled at least 3 double days (5 hours x 2 per day) of work. ) and I am doing bleeding nothing. NAAAATHING. I have instead watched a ton of detective stories with my mother and slept late and read fiction books about sociopaths. I felt ill for most of it, migraines and the such - but I have a feeling it is all in my head. I am behind on lecturing work and I have no car (it broke down - 3 weeks ago and is still not ready). As a result of avoiding my M, I have avoided EVERYTHING. No work, no Master's, no band practice, no following up of car admin. I managed to complete a website for my boyfriend's mum and I have joined a new musical project in the mean-time - ENTIRELY unrelated stuff to the general functioning of my life and progress towards my life goals.
The weird thing is that it probably isn't as bad as I think it is. Although I feel totally lost, I probably have made a fair amount of progress. The reading I have made was most likely the most important literature in the field, my problem is probably too specific - I may be able to lighten the load and make it less specific. I know I have a bit more reading I need to do for my problem (probably only 2 more important papers, rather than 20 papers). And all the things I have already written are probably entirely acceptable, with only a small amount of editing required. I will probably find the basic robotic syllabus entirely doable in a week or two and all the lecturing work and admin I am behind on, will probably be over in an hour or two on Tuesday. And I feel like my supervisor doesn't know what I'm doing, but my co-supervisor should get involved soon and he will know. As for being behind... A month behind, means an extra month - just an extra month. It will result in an extra few years of thesis doing. Stand back and quantify. It just ain't that bad.
So where to from here:
- Look at my schedule - determine how behind I am (in exact 5 hour days) - if I determine that I am 2 months behind, I will accept that as okay and move on. Because it is okay. It really is
- I will go read a single paper - the one that is pressing on my mind the most. Just one and it will be okay.
- I will contact my supervisor and demand he gets my promised co-supervisor officially involved
- I will look into a basic robotics syllabus.
I am luckily part of a very awesome group which we have christened: Master's Club (or M. Club for short). It's just a group of Computer Science master's students - a group of friends really. We meet every Monday night, go get some food, and we ask that all time horrible question: How is research? I have found some solace and companionship with my fellow M. club member - whether it is complaining about supervisors or topics - I am not alone.