I am a full-time assistant at a research center. I've worked here for more than three years, mostly on the same small handful of projects. During this time, we have accomplished very little of value. I find this frustrating and stressful, and it makes me question whether I should stay in research.
Some examples of what I consider to be "less success than we hoped for." We've spent the last 6-8 months developing a cognitive test that we want to use instead of an established one. After painstaking piloting, norming, and scoring, it turned out that the test we developed is almost completely orthogonal to the one we're emulating. A little while ago we wrapped up a year-long brain imaging study that failed to produce any results whatsoever. We were unable to confirm even the most rudimentary predictions. This resulted in the loss of funding for that project. The past three years have been more or less similar.
I've considered asking for a transfer to another project or research team, but I'm afraid of how that would be interpreted. Whenever there is a possibility that I might get reassigned to assist another researcher, the researchers I support now petition to keep me on their project because of my specialized skills. And it's true, their projects are the ones that I'm best equipped to help, but I'm very tired of them. I've been developing contacts at other labs on our university campus, but have been unsuccessful at finding another placement. I'm loath to leave the campus entirely because I'm getting free tuition on the classes I'm taking here.
My impression is that unsuccessful research on this scale is unusual and symptomatic of bigger underlying problems. I am, at least in part, working here to develop research and technology skills. If the training I'm getting is substandard, then I'm hurting myself the longer I stay here. Also, each time something goes wrong — data analysis, whatever — we start doubting the correctness of each of the steps we took to get there, panic, double-check and rerun all the scripts and analyses, etc. This wastes time and makes me doubt everything I do, not to mention how unpleasant it is to justify everything I do to the researchers I support. It never gets to outright finger-pointing, but the collective loss of trust is very stressful.
- Am I working at a dysfunctional lab?
- Is this likely to hurt my chances of joining a good graduate program in the future, should I decide to apply?
- How can I cope with long-term projects failing to get results?
- How do I cope with the loss of confidence? I mean, it's always possible that it's all my fault, isn't it?