The Academia Survival Thread [disc/adv/vent]

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Re: The Academia Survival Thread [disc/adv/vent]

Post by Student on Wed May 11, 2016 2:58 pm

Rant ahead!

I'm writing a thesis. Computer science. Phd student wrote a program in C++ for an organisation external to the university. The program was to be used by the organisation but it turned out the student did not write the program properly. It was left unused because he did not obey writing guidelines regarding memory usage.

They got me to fix his program and it's a fucking nightmare. Objects have been given stupid names. Datastructure usage is inconsistent. Comments are nonexistant.

It implements a complex cutting edge algorithm and some quite complex but less cutting edges ones too.

The only good thing about this is that it actually works (though not the way the organisation would like it to).

My task is to fix some of the broken aspects but the complexity of the algorithm itself makes this extremely difficult. I have no idea what anything does and the few things which I know what they do are things I have figured out myself. But the algorithm is too complex for this approach. The main objective is to fix a part of the main algorithm, but I have yet to reach that point because I first must figure out how to bypass one of his auxiliary algorithms.

That's not the worst thing, though. The worst thing is that I've just hit over a year in total trying to complete this. It's supposed to take half a semester, but the nightmareish complexity makes this almost an impossible task. In addition to this, most people who do their thesis in this subject get to work on their own code, but I have code that I have not written but which I still must understand and to make matters worse I'M the only one who knows how this code actually works aside from my supervisor. (so I can't get help from anyone else)

Earlier this year I almost had a breakdown when I was about to be kicked out of my apartment because of my lackluster results at university. Thankfully that disaster was averted.

I've talked to lots of people writing their thesis (and finishing on time) and there was a consistent pattern of some teacher having some idea they want to see implemented and asking a student to do it. In short: You have a clear idea to work from.

Unlike mine which involves fixing somebody else's mistakes.

A friend of mine suggested I should switch thesis to something else.

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Re: The Academia Survival Thread [disc/adv/vent]

Post by Werel on Wed May 11, 2016 4:43 pm

Ugh, that sounds like an insanely frustrating thesis situation. I think your take on how most people pick a thesis topic is spot-on-- they have a lot of help in choosing a topic of manageable size, difficulty, and relevance to the field, and it's really rough that you got stuck with something ill-conceived and oversized. Dunno if you want thoughts on how to manage the situation, or were just looking to vent, but many sympathetic ARGHs to you!
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Re: The Academia Survival Thread [disc/adv/vent]

Post by Werel on Sun May 29, 2016 9:25 pm

So is it normal to feel... significantly cognitively impaired during grad school? Kind of like a mild dementia? I know "absent-minded professor" is a thing, but I feel like I'm slipping in some real basic functions, especially the more stressed I am. Like flubbing simple muscle memory tasks (starting a washing machine, tying my shoes, rinsing the damn conditioner out of my hair before I get out of the shower)--the other day I looked down in the middle of making a PB&J and I'd put jelly on both sides, or went to the store for four things and forgot two, or ruined a shirt I was making cause I sewed part of it obviously upside-down and somehow didn't notice. Just dumb shit like that every day, with frustrating frequency and consequences. Does/did this happen to any of y'all when you were in school, or even a stressful job? Is this normal?
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Re: The Academia Survival Thread [disc/adv/vent]

Post by Hirundo Bos on Sun May 29, 2016 9:42 pm

Haven't been on either school or job for a while, but it sounds a lot like how I get when I've used my head too much or been exposed to too much stimuli. Or when I'm low on caffeine or have forgotten to take my SSRIs. I tend to knock over things a lot as well. And one time I had to go over to my mom for dinner because I kept turning on the wrong plates on my (electric) stove until I didn't trust myself around anything even remotely capable of bursting into flame.

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Re: The Academia Survival Thread [disc/adv/vent]

Post by Wondering on Sun May 29, 2016 11:21 pm

Werel wrote:So is it normal to feel... significantly cognitively impaired during grad school? Kind of like a mild dementia? I know "absent-minded professor" is a thing, but I feel like I'm slipping in some real basic functions, especially the more stressed I am. Like flubbing simple muscle memory tasks (starting a washing machine, tying my shoes, rinsing the damn conditioner out of my hair before I get out of the shower)--the other day I looked down in the middle of making a PB&J and I'd put jelly on both sides, or went to the store for four things and forgot two, or ruined a shirt I was making cause I sewed part of it obviously upside-down and somehow didn't notice. Just dumb shit like that every day, with frustrating frequency and consequences. Does/did this happen to any of y'all when you were in school, or even a stressful job? Is this normal?

I don't remember it happening to me when I was in grad school, but I never got to the diss writing part. HOWEVER, this sounds like a description of my life now as the parent of the toddler. I forget the most basic shit all the time. Burn food. Do the wrong laundry. Can't remember if I actually washed myself when I'm in the shower. Several times, I have even tested my blood sugar before eating but then forgotten to tell my pump to give me insulin. And that's about as rote and basic as it gets for me. So what you're describing doesn't sound out of the ordinary given how much brain space you're using for other things.

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Re: The Academia Survival Thread [disc/adv/vent]

Post by Enail on Sun May 29, 2016 11:36 pm

It's never happened to me from stress/brain overuse, but it's definitely a thing I've heard of happening ...but before you assume that's happening: Are you getting some sleep? Are you drinking enough water? Are you eating foods on a somewhat regular basis?  Yes, it's obvious, but looking after oneself is also a thing that can go out the window under high stress, so just want to check
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Re: The Academia Survival Thread [disc/adv/vent]

Post by Werel on Mon May 30, 2016 4:55 pm

WHEW, thanks Wondering and Hirundo, glad to hear it's a thing that can happen to others when mentally overtaxed-- that's a relief to hear (not early-onset Alzheimer's OR me being exceptionally mentally weak, yay!).

Enail wrote:Are you getting some sleep? Are you drinking enough water? Are you eating foods on a somewhat regular basis?
Yes, yes, and yes-- that's what had me wondering WTF was up, the inability to find a physical cause other than Run in circles flail all the time. But sounds like Run in circles flail all the time can swiss-cheese other people's brains too, so I will chalk it up to that. (Not that that's not also terrifying, cause... hello, 2-3 more years of swiss-cheese brain! No, but better than a permanent/physiological problem I guess).
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Re: The Academia Survival Thread [disc/adv/vent]

Post by kath on Wed Sep 14, 2016 2:49 am

I just started a grad program (I had my first actual class today). One thing I'm a little :/ about is navigating the fact that I am still trying to work.

I want to keep working at my job (currently my full time, normal adult type job) because in my opinion, it's quite relevant to my grad program. But it also makes me less available to the whims of grad school scheduling. In particular, I'm currently scheduled to TA a course in the second semester that will likely conflict pretty seriously with my job, and I am like not 100% sure what to do about it. I'm going to ask my interim supervisor, but if anyone has advice ...

(The job is, I'm a public programmer at the local science centre, and I program our 18+ evening which occurs once a month. I think this is relevant to the grad program - Masters of Fine Arts (Visual Arts) - because making up experiences for adults to have to get them to think differently about the world / discover something knew / ideally blow their minds is pretty much what I think successful art should be trying to do, and I have unique access to a way to see how people engage with ideas outside of an art context. The conflict is that the events are on 1 Thursday per month, and the timing of the course I am scheduled to TA next semester is Tuesday / Thursday afternoons. I could possibly physically go to the TAship and then go to work and run the event, but that would be ... terrifying. Potentially doable for 4 months, but terrifying).
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Re: The Academia Survival Thread [disc/adv/vent]

Post by Wondering on Wed Sep 14, 2016 12:27 pm

Do you know what kind of TA you'll be? When I was in grad school, being a TA in the English department meant being the full-blown teacher of the class. But in the General Studies department, it meant actually being an assistant to the prof by only grading the papers and tests.

If it's the latter, it might be more manageable to do both the TA and the job for 4 months. If it's the former, it would be much much harder.

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Re: The Academia Survival Thread [disc/adv/vent]

Post by Werel on Thu Sep 15, 2016 12:13 am

Definitely depends on what TAing means for this course, like Wondering said. If you're just the grader, working while you TA sounds manageable; if you're the sole instructor, it might be pretty rough. Talk to your supervisor about it, and see what they say-- could you get a MWF class, or a morning class?

BUT! I think a good mindset for grad school is "terrifying things are doable for 4/12/36 months." You might find that you're capable of working yourself to the bone in suboptimal circumstances as long as it's for a limited time, and that's a pretty good thing to know about yourself. If you can't get out of the scheduling conflict, maybe give it a shot, in the interest of maintaining the job you value and getting through your program in a timely way?

(Also, congrats on starting the program and welcome back to the jungle Evil)
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Re: The Academia Survival Thread [disc/adv/vent]

Post by Werel on Mon Dec 12, 2016 10:12 pm

Maybe it's just finals week talking, but I can't stop thinking about dropping out.

phd crying:
The sunk-cost fallacy is really easy to identify and brush off in theory, but in practice, it becomes very compelling. "I can't bear the idea of another 2 years of this" seems to hold surprisingly little water when weighed against "I've already lost 3 years of my life to this," even though nothing will get those 3 years back and I have a choice about the next 2. Even when looking at the money I've lost on loans and credit cards during the PhD, the salary difference between student stipend vs. almost any real job would erase that debt within a year. And the effects on my mental and physical health, social life, self-esteem, close relationships, hopes and dreams, etc. have been so much worse than I ever thought they would be, I have no idea how much worse they'll get if I stick with it. I don't even want to work in academia; I don't even want a job that would require a PhD; at this point, the only thing in it for me is getting mail addressed to Dr., making my family proud, and some vague sense of having persevered and achieved a difficult thing. But isn't perseverence only admirable when it's in service of something worthwhile? Isn't persevering towards something fruitless just stupid? And haven't I already milked enough from this system--three paid years in Hawaii, a bunch of international travel, some publications, all the knowledge you gain from completing doctoral coursework--to leave without regret?

Has anyone else ever had to choose between something that was making them miserable for no benefit other than "I did it" and some nebulous degree of social prestige, versus accepting the shame of quitting in the hopes of being happier? How did you make that choice?
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Re: The Academia Survival Thread [disc/adv/vent]

Post by Enail on Mon Dec 12, 2016 11:26 pm

Oof, Werel, that is sounding like a tough choice, and you've got a strong and very heartfelt-sounding argument there. I can definitely understand why the question would be weighing on you right now, but I'm thinking maybe it would be wiser to wait until after finals week to actually try to make the decision (unless you're hoping to drop out right now and escape the rest of it?). Not that how you're feeling about it now shouldn't be a factor, but right now it's probably a fairly overwhelming factor.

Thoughts under cut so you can leave it till later.
Spoiler:

One thing I notice is that you're talking about the degree as not being something worthwhile. But presumably at some point you thought it worthwhile on some level other than "doing a difficult thing, and being called Dr. is cool," right?  If there was something and if you can remember what it was, that's probably something you should consider as well.

On the abstract level, I'd definitely say that all that knowledge and travel and publications and time in Hawaii sounds like a lot to get out of three years of very, very hard work, and abstractly it definitely seems like enough that a person could leave on the strength of all that without regret, so if you're looking for someone to say you've done worthwhile things and gotten enough from your efforts to leave, I'll sign to that - but whether you specifically can leave without regret is probably a different matter Wink. And then, whether some regret would be worth it to change your next two years is another one.
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Re: The Academia Survival Thread [disc/adv/vent]

Post by Werel on Tue Dec 13, 2016 8:18 pm

I think you're right that I should leave the question until the semester is done, and probably longer than that--part of what's got me so down is the instability and stress of living in Honolulu (you can't help but sound like a prick saying you're miserable in Vacation Paradise, but uh... take my word, living here is a different thing!). We're moving back to the mainland in three months, since I'm done with work that requires me to be on campus, and maybe that'll do something to alleviate the problems I'm attributing to the grad program itself. Or not! But at least then I'll be able to separate out "grad school problems" from "Honolulu problems" and make a better-informed decision.

Enail wrote:One thing I notice is that you're talking about the degree as not being something worthwhile. But presumably at some point you thought it worthwhile on some level other than "doing a difficult thing, and being called Dr. is cool," right?  If there was something and if you can remember what it was, that's probably something you should consider as well.
Good point. Part of the issue is that the worthwhile elements I came here for have either been achieved already (deep knowledge, research, experience), or my time here has shown me that they will not be achieved (came here for the off-chance of finding another non-academic job in my field, e.g. running a research institute, which I now understand is not at all a realistic prospect). Also, a major factor in doing this degree was defiance and hurt-- I had just lost my dream job in a miserable sexual-harassment-whistleblower-retaliation case, and going back for a PhD was really my only way to stay in the field, keep showing my face at conferences, and say "fuck you, you can't chase me out." Three years later, being angry at a shitty old man just isn't fueling my fire anymore. So, thinking about my original reasons, a lot of them don't hold up now, and that's a major consideration.

Enail wrote:And then, whether some regret would be worth it to change your next two years is another one.
That's a really good point. I think I'll try and work out all the things I anticipate losing for sure if I do spend the next two years finishing the degree, the things I risk losing, and the things that will probably stay the same either way. Regret is weird and hard to predict, but we're so rarely told that we might regret not quitting (MERICA! MERICA DON'T QUIT!), it takes some real long and hard thinking to weigh that possibility. Thanks for chipping in some thinking-tools. Wink
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Re: The Academia Survival Thread [disc/adv/vent]

Post by Enail on Wed Dec 14, 2016 3:35 pm

Oh, yeah, the change of environment sounds like it will make the decision (and hopefully your life in general) a lot easier, if you can stick it out till then. Also, the PhD backstory sounds like a really shitty situation, but also gives you serious badass points, that's some first-rate and constructive 'fuck you'-ing you've done.
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Re: The Academia Survival Thread [disc/adv/vent]

Post by Glides on Fri Dec 23, 2016 2:14 pm

I'm like legit done with school. I legit graduated.

Very unexpected. Didn't know who else to brag to.

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Re: The Academia Survival Thread [disc/adv/vent]

Post by Werel on Thu Jan 05, 2017 4:44 pm

Dude, you offered to relinquish first author status on this publication for a reason: I did the bulk of the work and writing, your part was two months late, and you're not even in this field anymore. You yourself said these things. But now at the last second you decide you'd "actually prefer to remain first author, sorry"? You slimy piece of shit, I know you wouldn't be doing this if I were a boy. Just like you wouldn't have pinned my friend to a wall and groped her if she were a boy.
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Re: The Academia Survival Thread [disc/adv/vent]

Post by Enail on Thu Jan 05, 2017 5:38 pm

Oh no! Holy fuck, what a slimy asshole. Is there any possible recourse? So much rage on your behalf.
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Re: The Academia Survival Thread [disc/adv/vent]

Post by Student on Thu Jan 05, 2017 7:09 pm

Werel wrote:Dude, you offered to relinquish first author status on this publication for a reason: I did the bulk of the work and writing, your part was two months late, and you're not even in this field anymore. You yourself said these things. But now at the last second you decide you'd "actually prefer to remain first author, sorry"? You slimy piece of shit, I know you wouldn't be doing this if I were a boy. Just like you wouldn't have pinned my friend to a wall and groped her if she were a boy.

What an asshole that guy is! Angry

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Re: The Academia Survival Thread [disc/adv/vent]

Post by Wondering on Thu Jan 05, 2017 8:45 pm

Can you just refuse, Werel?

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Re: The Academia Survival Thread [disc/adv/vent]

Post by Werel on Thu Jan 05, 2017 9:35 pm

Yeah, talked to a female professor about it, and she agreed that it's worth digging my heels in. It feels petty, but a bunch of small shit like that adds up to how women lose in academia, so I think I'll be stubborn on this one. 'Preciate the commiseration!
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Re: The Academia Survival Thread [disc/adv/vent]

Post by Enail on Thu Jan 05, 2017 10:33 pm

I don't think it's petty at all. Like you say, men getting recognition for women's work is a big part of gender inequality in... well, many things. You did the work, you should damn well get the credit. Good luck with it!
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Re: The Academia Survival Thread [disc/adv/vent]

Post by Werel on Thu Jan 05, 2017 11:39 pm

Wow, what an unexpectedly happy ending-- I politely put my foot down and said I'd done the first author's share of work, and should be first author. Dude immediately agreed, apologized for being thoughtless about it, said he hoped I didn't feel like he'd intentionally tried to screw me over because he respects and considers me a friend, and thanked me for speaking up rather than saying nothing and harboring ill will. I guess even people who've done shitty things can sometimes turn around and do a decent thing.
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Re: The Academia Survival Thread [disc/adv/vent]

Post by Enail on Fri Jan 06, 2017 12:43 am

Woo! That's awesome!
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Post by Wondering on Fri Jan 06, 2017 1:06 am

Yay!

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Re: The Academia Survival Thread [disc/adv/vent]

Post by Werel on Mon Sep 18, 2017 11:34 pm

As of this afternoon I'm ABD. Cool

(All-but-dissertation, meaning the only thing standing between me and PhD is writing The Paper. Made it to the boss fight.)
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