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Intimidated Doing Research With Pi

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#1 Casdog

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Posted 08 January 2017 - 04:53 AM

I started helping perform dry lab research within the first few months of starting undergrad, with a resident at a hospital in my area. The stuff I did was really basic (data collection from patient charts). Recently, I started working as a student researcher at my university's affiliated hospital, with a PI who seemed really kind. I was given a systematic review project to work with another upper year student. This PI was willing to take me on the spot during my interview and said that I could work with him in future clinical studies that he will be conducting, if we (me and the PI) work well together. He has assigned us (me and the upper year student) to work on everything in the research process (search strategy, data collection, analysis, manuscript) and he is helping us along the way, and basically said that he's hoping to get this journal published with us either as first or second author.

 

However, because I am still in my first year of undergrad and have only done basic data collection in research up until this point, I feel a lot less adequate then this other individual I am working on the project with. I don't really know about anything in the research project. For example, he asked us for input on the search strategy he developed for us to get us going, but at the time, I had no idea what a good search strategy consisted of. Whenever I ask my PI questions, I get really intimidated because he answers in huge thorough paragraphs. When he asks for our suggestions and I suggest something that I think could possibly work (based on my knowledge from solely researching the topic by myself), he always writes a huge paragraph as to why my suggestion wouldn't work. I feel like I'm not even contributing anything substantial because I'm always so confused and my ideas never seem to be good. I feel like I'm asking so many stupid questions. I'm worried that he will think that I'm inadequate to continue researching with him in the possible future.

 

Any suggestions for my current situation?



#2 Arztin

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Posted 08 January 2017 - 05:27 AM

I started helping perform dry lab research within the first few months of starting undergrad, with a resident at a hospital in my area. The stuff I did was really basic (data collection from patient charts). Recently, I started working as a student researcher at my university's affiliated hospital, with a PI who seemed really kind. I was given a systematic review project to work with another upper year student. -------- I'm kind of confused. These are 2 completely different things right?

 

Are you currently in med school working with an upper year med student or are you an UG student working with an upper year UG student?

 

Whenever I ask my PI questions, I get really intimidated because he answers in huge thorough paragraphs. -------- can you explain a little bit more? I am not exactly sure to understand. If you think there can be somewhat private information that you don't want to post publicly, it's fine. You can PM me if you if you want.

 

And personal general advice, if you feel like your supervisor is being abusive or intimidating towards you, best thing to do is to leave the project on good terms as soon as possible and to not work with this PI again. One thing I agree on with pharmaceutical companies is: ''fail cheap, fail early''. The quicker you exit a dead end, the smaller are your losses. Having a bad relationship with a PI is a legit reason to stop working with that PI.

And also, in research, always make sure you don't get screwed. I'm only a third year med student, and I have already seen and heard of a few medical students do all the scut work, and not get their names mentionned anywhere AS PROMISED (not as an author, or no credit given even though they were EXPLICITELY TOLD OR LEFT WITH THE BELIEF THEY WOULD GET CREDIT FOR IT) e.g. chart review a many many of hours, get stressed out due to falling really behind academic wise + having to meet research deadlines, and then not given any credit.


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#3 Casdog

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Posted 08 January 2017 - 05:43 AM

Sorry for not clarifying further! I'm currently a first year UG, working with an upper year UG student.

 

I started helping perform dry lab research within the first few months of starting undergrad, with a resident at a hospital in my area. The stuff I did was really basic (data collection from patient charts). Recently, I started working as a student researcher at my university's affiliated hospital, with a PI who seemed really kind. I was given a systematic review project to work with another upper year student. -------- I'm kind of confused. These are 2 completely different things right?

 

Yes, these two things are different. I included the first component (basic data collection) to provide a background/context to my minimal knowledge on dry lab research.

 

Whenever I ask my PI questions, I get really intimidated because he answers in huge thorough paragraphs. -------- can you explain a little bit more? I am not exactly sure to understand. If you think there can be somewhat private information that you don't want to post publicly, it's fine. You can PM me if you if you want.

 

When I ask my PI questions (for clarification on one of his suggestions for the project, or to ask if a suggestion I propose is valid), he always responds in a huge thorough paragraph. I'm not sure if this is because he is attempting to teach me to help me become a better researcher or if he's actually frustrated at me? Do PIs normally provide such thorough explanations as to why your proposed ideas are invalid/can't be incorporated? 

 

 

 

I'm just really confused as to whether he really wants to make this a valuable learning experience for me, or if he's just a little frustrated with my lack of knowledge and abundance of questions?



#4 freewheeler

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Posted 08 January 2017 - 08:12 AM

The person best positioned to evaluate the situation is yourself, but it appears that you may be lacking some social awareness if you are having difficulty determining the intent behind your PI's responses.

 

To a complete outsider on an internet forum, it sounded to me like you are feeling insecure about your current level of knowledge and kind of overwhelmed with perhaps how quickly things are moving and uncertain with regards to making suggestions. Considering you are only a few months into undergrad, all of the above is totally normal.

 

My impression is that if your PI is providing you with thorough responses, it's probably because they are trying to help you learn and develop critical thinking skills applicable to whatever project it is that you are working on, by sharing their own thought process with you.

 

If you are really unsure about your relationship with your PI, then why not talk to your upper year UG colleague and share how you feel and then if you feel comfortable with it/feel it is appropriate, have an honest conversation with your PI.

 

I am doubtful that your PI is frustrated with you, considering they decided to take you on with essentially no experience as a first year UG. If they are frustrated and acting annoyed/passive-aggressive as you seem to be worried about, then it would be their fault for bringing on someone with no experience and having unrealistic expectations.

 

Oh yeah, and quit judging yourself, OP. Just do your best.


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#5 BoopityBoop

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Posted 08 January 2017 - 08:41 AM

I think it's normal to feel intimidated when working with any professor/researcher who you look up to and also hope will result in a good working relationship.

My current research and research skills are in clinical research so I understand the feelings when beginning to be involved in clinical research. It is quite a different environment from the bench.

The one question I have is this:

Prior to approaching your PI, have you tried to find answers by your self? How far did you go?

  • Have you bugged the librarian and raided the library? Librarians are definitely one of the most underestimated and underrated resources in our generation of google and internet
  • Have you searched on Google?
  • Have you searched on google for possible resources/textbooks that could help beginners such as your self?
  • Have you looked through research forums to see which textbooks are good guides?
  • Have you then went back to see if you can loan this from the library? Possible an inter-library loan?
  • Have you talked to the upper year UG partner about your problem/knowledge gap?
  • Have you talked to a possible resident physician involved in the study/project?
  • Have you talked to a potential research coordinators in the department/division or works with your PI?
  • Have you raided your University's student centre and any workshops they hold? Many University's do a one-day crash course on these easy/introductory skills (for me it was the librarian that held these workshops)
  • Have you asked your friends/peers who also may also be doing research?

The reason I ask, is because I was (and I guess still am) in the same boat. I found my PI very intimidating (a surgeon), even though he's a very very nice and approachable person (not the stereotypical 'hot headed' surgeon, but nonetheless, still a surgeon). I think it's because I really looked up to him as a mentor and a role model so I didn't want to mess up and look incompetent in front of him. If at all possible, I wanted to impress him.

 

So before I ask my PI questions, I make sure I find out as much as I can. Essentially your PI should be the last person you ask question. Think of him as a God. People approach God when they have tried to solve the problem in all humanly possible ways, before asking for God's help through prayer (mixed in with a good dose of desperation).

 

I also think it is important to be honest with your PI. He doesn't know what your UG degree curriculum teaches you. Let him know that a lot of the things that you are asked to do are being done for the first time, and that you've never done this before. But show your eagerness to learn by asking, "Do you have textbooks/resources that you used when you first started doing clinical research?" "Do you have any resources that I could use to try answering these questions before I ask you?"

You don't have to be best chums with your PI and send him weekly e-mails/text of the funniest memes. Even I'm still not doing that with mine after 4 years of working with him. But if being intimidated affects your abilities to address a problem and it affects the overall quality of the work and the efficiency of work completion, that is where I draw the line. You shouldn't let your feelings/fears get in the way of your the work, now that is the real crime.

Be confident that you've attempted to find answers to the questions to the best of your abilities with the resources you got, so that when you approach him, you can ask your question without shame or guilt.



#6 Lactic Folly

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Posted 08 January 2017 - 03:58 PM

So before I ask my PI questions, I make sure I find out as much as I can. Essentially your PI should be the last person you ask question. Think of him as a God. People approach God when they have tried to solve the problem in all humanly possible ways, before asking for God's help through prayer (mixed in with a good dose of desperation).

 

lol. Yes, try to research yourself before asking questions, but at the same time, it's better to ask sooner than to go too far down the wrong path, wasting valuable time and resources, because you were too intimidated to say anything. This makes it seem as though you're not aware of your own limits.

 

Expectations re: prior knowledge for a first year UG student are likely to be quite low. It is likely that this position was intended to train you from the ground up, and the detailed responses are part of that. Place yourself in the shoes of a busy person - if you were feeling frustrated, would you spend a long time composing thoughtful replies? 

 

That being said, you'll likely have the best sense of how things are going if you ask in person - not necessarily about questions specific to the project, but about the process - that you wish to be contributing more to the project, and how he feels about the way you are currently approaching your work e.g. does he expect more/fewer questions from you along the way, etc.  BoopityBoop's question "Do you have any resources that I could use to try answering these questions before I ask you?" is a good example.



#7 Arztin

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Posted 08 January 2017 - 05:02 PM

When I ask my PI questions (for clarification on one of his suggestions for the project, or to ask if a suggestion I propose is valid), he always responds in a huge thorough paragraph. I'm not sure if this is because he is attempting to teach me to help me become a better researcher or if he's actually frustrated at me? Do PIs normally provide such thorough explanations as to why your proposed ideas are invalid/can't be incorporated? 

 

I'm just really confused as to whether he really wants to make this a valuable learning experience for me, or if he's just a little frustrated with my lack of knowledge and abundance of questions?

I am really confused at this point. If your PI gives you thorough answers, it means your PI is taking time to explain you things. I really don't see how that itself is intimidation in any way.

 

Also, realize the following and I am not being condescending but saying things as they are. Your PI is an academic researcher and knows most of his own specific field of expertise and knows most of what has been done and what doesn't work. Explaining you what doesn't work and why properly is rather a proof he has patience and he's trying to teach you. Having a first year student as a PI is seldom a winning situation for the PI. At your level, you aren't expected to come up with revolutionary ideas of any sort, because you are a first year undergrad and you probably lack both the knowledge and the experience. PIs know that when they have undergrads in general, they know that they will in 99% of cases spend more time teaching the student rather than expecting the student to accelerate their research. 

 

From what you have told me here, i.e. solely from the fact that he takes his time to explain, I really can't say that It's intimidation O.o

 

And yes, I agree with the above. talk to your upper year classmate.


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#8 Bede

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Posted 11 January 2017 - 06:42 PM

Cosdog,

 

It's called impostor syndrome and it will likely dog you for a good chunk of your career. There's nothing wrong with it, it still hits me every once in a while. I remember finishing my PhD and actually laying in bed at night thinking that any day now, I was going to get a letter saying there had been a mistake and I was awarded a PhD in error.

 

Just work hard and realize that for the remainder of your career, whether in science or medicine, there will be people who know far more about something than you. On the other hand, you will know far more about other subjects than they do. That's just the way it is in academic medicine. 

 

It's far better than the Dunning-Kruger effect where you're a know nothing, but think you know a lot. 



#9 lightng79

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Posted 15 January 2017 - 11:05 PM

If it helps at all, I got started in dry research after undergrad with no knowledge whatsoever and I also felt useless.

 

You need to do a lot of the leg work yourself and read a lot of peer-reviewed articles. You won't be babysat past a certain point. The environment that I worked in required rapid adaptability and of-course you'll get mentorship, but a lot will rely on yourself and your resilience 







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