Failure in research?

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Failure in research?

Post by hex6f737521 » Mon Feb 03, 2020 1:23 pm

At the start of my junior year last August I joined a group where I was given a theoretical problem to work on. It turned out to be unsolvable and the PI had no other idea for a project I could work on. I then decided to join a computational nuclear phtsics group where I was given a lot of training and attention from the PI. Just when I was ready to tackle a real problem, the PI told me they found two major issues with the technique and doesn't really know how to fix them. I also hoped he'd fund me to stay over the summer in his lab but now that seems to have gone out the window too.

I will go through my most critical year and summer in undergrad without any documented results. Does that happen this often or am I just increadibly unlucky?

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Re: Failure in research?

Post by geekusprimus » Mon Feb 03, 2020 2:28 pm

"Documented results" means publications and presentations. They do help, but it's not the end of the world when you don't have them. You can look through all the posts from people who did research and have zero publications or presentations, and a lot of them still got into some solid schools. What you do have, though, is two different researchers who, assuming they were satisfied with your work, will be able to write some letters of recommendation for you.

As for how often this happens in physics, it's more often than you might think. I've been working in a numerical relativity group, and I spent the first eight months of my research finding out that the error with our numerical methods had nothing to do with the methods themselves and everything to do with inconsistencies elsewhere in the code. I spent the next fourteen months going through various iterations of setting up initial conditions, running tests, finding an issue with the initial conditions, then debugging, running more tests, and finding more issues. At this point, we're pretty sure our results are good, we trust the data, and things seem to make sense, but our collaborators performing the final analysis on our data have been dragging their feet so much that my senior thesis looks like it will say, "Yeah, we did this and it looks cool, but we don't really have any idea what it means."

Lastly, good scientists rarely have only one project going on at a time. Your computational PI might not know how to fix this problem, but you might ask if he's got anything else going on you could work on, especially since he's invested so much time into training you. Meanwhile, I would look around for REUs and internships that haven't passed their application deadlines yet.

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Re: Failure in research?

Post by ES » Mon Feb 03, 2020 3:57 pm

The point of doing research at undergraduate level is to become familiar with what you are expected to do at grad school and decide whether this is for you or not. It also shows grad school that you have what it takes to be a researcher. Grad schools don't care about the scientific results of what you did because, let's be honest, no matter what you do, it's gonna be pretty much nothing like actual research. As long as you managed to get familiar with the research environment and showed your dedication and work ethics in the lab, this is good enough. What is more important that having research experience is to secure recommendations from professors who you worked with and they know how how dedicated and how amazing you are. If your research experience had fruitful results, it's an added plus but not really necessary for the application process. Undergrads are not expected to have any publications anyway.
This is pretty much my personal opinion so take it with a grain of salt.

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Re: Failure in research?

Post by Nishikata » Tue Feb 04, 2020 2:53 am

It is not the end of the world. Research is not always successful, everybody knows this.
What is important for you is:
  • To be able to narrate the research problem and methodology, as well as the discovered challenges that made the project unable to be completed within your assignment period
  • Obtain good working relationship with your lab supervisor, and have him/her write your research capabilities as an undergrad in this project. Even though the research is unsuccessful, it is still a positive to hear a candidate is inquisitive, disciplined, and independent during the process.

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