Pity PhD

Aug 16 2011 Published by under career issues, graduate school

A question from a reader:

I'm about to start my 3rd year of grad school in a physical science working at a top 10 university in my field for a world leader in my sub-field. I'm terrified that I'm going to wind up with a pity PhD, and its going to hurt my chances of getting a good job. Its not like I'm not working really hard, but my project just seems to have an unwork-around-able fatal flaw caused by years of neglect on a major piece of equipment in our lab. I'm trying to fix it, but maybe this means that in about a year I'll get transitioned to a different project, but pretty much no matter what happens at this point I'm going to wind up tainted as the grad student who didn't produce that many publications.

I used to have dreams of being an awesome grad student who produced a couple fantastic publications and maybe had a shot at doing the tenure track. At the rate I'm going, that seems like a pipe dream. So now I'm hoping that I get a fantastic letter of recommendation from my boss and get a good postdoc where I manage to produce enough to demonstrate that it really wasn't my fault as a grad student. If you (or maybe some of your readers) are looking for a postdoc, would you seriously consider a candidate that doesn't have any publications but has a letter from their advisor swearing that they worked really hard, are really smart, and that it just isn't their fault?

***************

I would hire such a person as a postdoc if I knew and respected the advisor or someone else who could confirm that the lack of results and publications was not owing to an inability to finish projects or write papers. I'd be concerned, of course -- I have supervised more than a few postdocs with major writing problems and would prefer to work with those who can and will write their own papers -- and it would be best if there were some evidence to back up an explanation for lack of awesome research results and publications.

If at all possible, a PhD student who wants to pursue an academic career should find something to write up, and the advisor should help with this effort.

My situation may not be analogous, but as a postdoc, the main project I was supposed to be working on was clearly headed for failure because a key collaborator wasn't going to provide a necessary and promised part of the research. My supervisor wasn't about to be proactive and help me with another project, and I feared that my future was going to go up in flames. So I kept working on the original project in the hopes that something would come of it (nothing ever did), but I also started dividing my time between that project and another one -- something I came up with myself. My supervisor didn't mind that I was working on an additional project, which required very few resources, and in the end, the only publications from my postdoc work are from that 'side project'.

I learned a lot from that experience: how to survive a failed project and how to come up with my own research project and carry it through to completion (publications). These are very useful skills for an academic career. I know that some graduate students can have a lot less freedom to take on additional projects, even if they are related to the main thesis project, so it may not be possible to do this. In that case, the student will have to rely on the advisor's ability to make a compelling case that the lack of results/publications is not the fault of the student and should not be taken as an indication of their abilities (or lack thereof).

Readers who supervise/mentor postdocs: Would you consider hiring a candidate such as the one described in the e-mail above? Have you hired such a person before?

Readers who have supervised graduate students with projects that failed, through no fault of the student: What, if anything, have you done to rescue the student (and their future career opportunities)?

Readers who have had a failed project as a graduate student (or postdoc, or assistant professor, or at any vulnerable career stage): What did you do?

41 responses so far

  • Erika says:

    I point your correspondent (and interested readers) towards this recent post - Resurgence and Resilience - by Steve Caplan. Might provide some food for thought (and suggests that your approach to your postdoc was a useful one).

  • DrugMonkey says:

    I just kept keepin on. Eventually I landed on the project that was suitably productive.

  • Dan says:

    Better a pity PhD than a consolation Masters, which is what I may be headed for. An established world-leader in a field will have a network of former students with labs where you could get a post-doc, if nothing else.

    • not-doc says:

      "Better a pity PhD than a consolation Masters"

      Indeed. I ended up with a consolation masters after getting scooped at the very last minute (long, painful story). After so many years working on the PhD research, I now have nothing to show for it. I would have much rather gotten a pity PhD than the terminal MS that I ended up with.

  • Polytrope says:

    I would most likely not take on someone in this situation. There are so many good postdoc candidates out there that it's not worth taking the risk on one who has no papers, just in case it turns out that they cannot write and hence would be a major time sink.

  • GEARS says:

    I guess I fall into two different categories, 1 and 3.

    As a mentor role, I would not take on such a student. That is probably due to my lack of experience (just started my TT) rather than the student. In a few years, this might change but I would rather someone that has shown productivity. If you thesis is written well, that might sway me.

    As a PhD student on a failed project: This is a little difficult to answer because I'm in engineering not science. But basically, I was supposed to build this world class instrument for my PhD project to be successful. Except said instrument costs a lot of equipment money and needs support staff, neither of which were pre-planned. So I was only marginally successful with that. However, due to delays in manufacturing, I was able to work with a postdoc on another project and we initiated several publishable (and patentable) projects on our own. So my suggestion would be to branch out on your own a little and see where your work overlaps with another.

  • Nicole says:

    Our pity PhDs get really fantastic jobs in the corporate sector making much much more money than the rest of us. When you talk to them a few years later, they are tremendously happy.

    I kind of doubt the above questioner is going to get a pity phd. Instead, I suggest she get herself a negativity jar and stick in a coin or a bill every time she starts up with the negative self-talk. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy may also help. Third year is way too early to figure out that one isn't going to make it... it's still imposter syndrome time. She'll get through easily if she develops a bit more moxy.

    Pretty much everyone has a failed project at some point in the PhD writing process. Those who don't are lucky and are the exceptions. You're getting yours early, which is pretty par for the course.

  • NatC says:

    Has anyone else noticed that one of the worst things that can happen to a grad student (in the long run) is that their project works with no problems in the first few years? Somehow this builds an expectation that science *works* and when something inevitably doesn't work, they are left frustrated and blaming themselves.

    For the rest of us, we enjoy and celebrate small victories, and when things don't work as planned, well that's just normal. Maybe we learned to deal with the frustration? We certainly learned to troubleshoot everything else that comes our way, and arguably, we learned more by working through a problem than having everything turn to gold under our fingertips.
    Or perhaps we're just thoroughly messed up.

    The point is: a failed project is not necessarily a failure, it can be a strength - you just have to frame it that way: This is what I did, this is how I troubleshot, this is what I learned, this is where I learned to step away and move on.
    (And get the reference letter to back you up).

  • I would hire someone as a postdoc with few publications if they came highly recommended AND I knew the recommender (so I could judge the likelihood I was getting snowed). I would be unlikely to hire someone with NO publications, regardless of the circumstance. It is hard for me to imagine a hard working student who can't either salvage SOMETHING from the failed project or do a successful small side project.

    I had a mostly unsuccessful project as a PhD (which led to 1 publication eventually after I started my postdoc). However, I saw the writing on the wall in year 3, and picked up a side project that lead to 3 publications. Someone looking for a research career should be capable of 1) looking out for their own interests (because no one ever cares as much about your career as you do) and 2) picking up something interesting on the side.

    • marc says:

      Someone looking for a research career should be capable of 1) looking out for their own interests (because no one ever cares as much about your career as you do) and 2) picking up something interesting on the side.

      YES. Even people who mean well and may generally be helpful, don't care about your career as much as you do.

  • another anonymous person says:

    Figure out what publishable bits you have available and write them up. Small papers are better than no papers. You don't need the slam dunk Expensive Piece of Equipment Experiment - but you do need evidence of productivity, and showing that you can take a project and find the good/useful pieces of it when the major piece doesn't come through is a good sign of creativity and versatility. It is also a very valuable lesson in making backup plans. "If this experiment doesn't work, I will do X, Y, and Z".

    These are all things that your mentors and (if you get your own lab) funding agencies will be looking for.

    And - stop panicking at the end of your 2nd year. The old saw is that 3/4 of a PhD is done in the last 1/5 of the time, and it's pretty much true. You have most of your PhD to go. To be honest, this sounds like what PhD Comics calls the Post Quals Slump. Look it up!

    • muddledgrad says:

      This has been my exact strategy - I have just submitted my thesis and my main project(problem) that I set out to do was mostly a failure. However I managed to salvage bit along the way which with some further experiments could be packaged into papers on their own and had a few first author papers in decent journals. I also took on some side projects and have several collaborative papers to my credit.
      So although my major piece has not been successful I think I was able to show my productivity in other ways.

  • studyzone says:

    I agree with GEARS - the grad student should definitely explore another project (with help from the advisor) that can produce publishable data. The student can still work on the main project - learning how to problem-solve (i.e. getting the equipment to work) is a valuable asset for any postdoc or TT faculty. In grad school, my dissertation project carried the risk of resulting in a big fat negative result that wouldn't become apparent until far into the project, so I collaborated with a postdoc on a 2nd project as a backup plan. It turns out that both projects were successful and yielded interesting results, and I published two first-authors and several other papers from these projects.

  • BugDoc says:

    If I saw a postdoc application with few papers but great letters, I would make extra effort to talk to the mentor and thesis committee by phone to explore why that happened and also to specifically query whether personal weaknesses did or did not lead to the lack of publications. One postdoc in my lab had one small publication from the thesis work, but letters from the advisor and committee (who were well known and excellent scientists) suggested that the student had done a lot of work and the advisor decided to hold on to it to make it a more high profile paper after the student left. Since being in my lab, this person has published 1 paper/yr (this is great for wet lab biology IMO) and is terrifically productive.

    Regarding students with failed projects - I am very proactive in this area. Projects in my lab are driven by phenotypes. Everybody gets 6 months on a high risk project (if they want) to see if their idea generates a biological phenotype. If not, they have to either switch to a project with a phenotype or pick up an additional project that is associated with a clear phenotype. Obviously, this is less relevant to engineering type research, but in my field, if you have a phenotype of some sort, you will get a paper, even if it's a small one. As people get more senior and get publications out, they get more latitude to spend time on open-ended risky projects, which often generate exciting ideas/phenotypes for themselves or others in the lab to pick up.

  • anon says:

    Start of your second year? Psh- you're probably fine (varies from field to field of course), and stressing about nothing. I know someone who had only one publication (a few more in the writing stages though) in a very low tier journal *while* he was applying to postdoc positions, and still managed to get a couple of offers (this occurred last year).

    Find some other project to work on, you'll be fine. Maybe no longer a superstar, but your career is not in the toilet yet.

  • jen says:

    I would hire such a person as long as I knew the advisor well enough to trust the recommendation.

  • MJ says:

    Write a review paper as first author, with your advisor as a coauthor. When that is submitted, write a second review paper as first author, with a fellow grad student or two as middle authors (meet with them and delegate them an area of their interest) and your advisor as last author. Bam! Two first author publications--you have just shown that you can write while conducing research.

    Also, find something from your data that you can present at conferences. Even if it's a poster, at least you are getting yourself out there and building your CV. Some conferences (at least in my field) will even accept meta analysis posters.

    Of course, I'm in a life sci, so maybe physical sci are different.

    • gerty-z says:

      I'm in life science, and review articles don't count the same as research publications. I want to see that someone can publish their own work. I would think twice about hiring a postdoc who had only published review articles.

      • MJ says:

        Yes, but if the option is review articles vs no publications at all...at least you know the person with the review articles can write a manuscript and has experience with that process.

  • Alex says:

    I was on a couple of projects that only yielded the most meager of results. I was getting ready to quit. And I realized that if I'm going to quit, I should sharpen my programming skills so I can get a job. And if I am going to sharpen my programming skills, instead of working through examples in a book I should come up with a project. And if I'm going to come up with a project, how about something in physics, since physics is fun? And if I'm going to write a computer program to model a physical system, how about something related to some problems I'd been thinking about in my research? And before I model it numerically, I'd better try to understand it qualitatively, and maybe do some simple analytical models to understand what I'll be looking for in the simulation.

    And next thing I knew I had enough results to write a theory paper. (Which was unusual because I had been doing experiments.) So I showed it to my advisor, and he told me to write it up, and then he was even nice enough to go out and get some funds for another computational project. And then I had enough results for a dissertation.

  • anonymous says:

    I've been known to hire two different kinds of postdocs -- the apprentice and the pity postdoc. The former are the ones who you expect will take a project and run with it, and the latter are people who need a job and who aren't presently TT material, and I happen to have enough funding to support someone for a year or so. The latter work great if they are skilled and can do intensive tasks and analysis work even if they don't contribute to defining the science in the projects. If they then end up being capable of taking over the science and thus being apprentices after all, so much the better -- they are then invited to help write grants to extend their appointment.

    But specific note to this student -- he/she should discuss the concerns with the advisor and give them an opportunity to smooth the road.

  • If your supervisor isn't giving you the support you need to be productive, go talk to the members of your supervisory committee. Situations like these are exactly what the committee is there for.

    If nothing else, because you're talked about the problem and possible solutions with them, they'll be in better positions to tell potential post-doc supervisors why you're a good candidate despite your low productivity.

    (Don't have a supervisory committee? Go talk to faculty whose judgement you think is good.)

  • marc says:

    Will this person be hired? Maybe. But certainly not above someone who is similar but with more pubs. Though if the person is only a 3rd year gradstudent there is ample time for things to turn around. That's the way things can go sometimes. Feast or famine.

    I had a project fail. It was probably the shared fault of myself and my advisor (I'll spare you the details). A lot of work. A lot of data. Zero pubs. I tried to salvage what I could from the project and reinvested my energy into totally different projects. Having a focused but diversified research palate is helpful.

  • NatC says:

    This has been bugging me all morning: If there is really an equipment-related unwork-around-able flaw, why are you still doing the project/why hasn't the equipment been fixed?!

    • PityPhD says:

      I wrote the email that FSP is responding to...the longer version of the story is that I started doing research in my group in March 2010. At that point, we didn't know we had a problem. By November 2010, I was beginning to suspect a problem, and by March 2011 it was clear that there was a problem. We knew symptoms, but not root cause. I've been hunting ever since.

      Fixing this piece of equipment has taken over my PhD.

  • europas_ice says:

    If the project isn't working, the student (preferably with the advisor's support) needs to get a new project that will work. Consider changing advisors if possible if you're current advisor isn't supporting you getting publication-worthy material.

  • queenrandom says:

    I fell into category 3. Long story short, I switched labs entirely at the beginning of my third year and had to start a completely new project from scratch. I worked my ASS off to make the project work; this involved spending a sleepless couple months making sure the project was on solid ground, and really just letting the results guide me to the next logical step rather than trying to force things to work. Within ~2.5 years of that I had a first author manuscript submitted and accepted at a very good journal (not CNS, but top of my field), defended and started a postdoc. The majority of the PIs I contacted about the postdoc (which I did while doing revisions on my manuscript) didn't have an issue with my manuscript being in progress; a few asked about the reviewer comments and how I was addressing them.

    I would advise this student to recognize to cut his/her losses, start a new project, and accept that it's not going to be a 4 year (and probably not even 5 year) PhD. And be sure to write a manuscript (not a review - but if you want to do that in addition to a real manuscript more power to ya). You learn learn so, so much when you write and go through the review process, and I've seen too many students leave this in the hands of their thesis labs only to get put by the wayside. You really don't want your manuscript to go to the science graveyard.

  • AnonEngineeringProf says:

    I don't know what field you are in, and it may be hard to give advice without field-specific knowledge. However, in my field, my advice would be: start a new project.

    In my field, students are expected to be involved in several projects during their work towards a thesis. It's also not at all unusual for a project idea to go nowhere or for a project to fail. In those cases, it's important to cut your losses early and move on to something else. But then, my field is not reliant upon expensive equipment and isn't "big-money science". Given this, in my field, I would not hire a postdoc with no publications: no way, no how. But I suspect your field may be different.

    I would agree with those who say, you don't need to stress out, your career isn't ruined: but you need to be strategic about picking projects, and you need to look out for your own career (e.g., by having a few side projects of your own choosing that are likely to lead to publication) -- and if your advisor is preventing you from working on publishable projects, you might want to consider/explore switching advisors.

  • EcoNerd says:

    To echo what others have said, the start of year 3 seems way too early to be writing ones career off or anticipating a pity PhD. I didn't have a whole project fail, per se, but I did scrap a dissertation proposal in my 5th semester and defend a new one in my 6th. I also had lots of little pieces during my dissertation that never went anywhere. These are the experiences that prepared me to be an independent scientist, because I learned when to drop things that weren't working, and how to focus and broaden the scope of my research. After finishing (with three lead (1 in press) and 4 junior-authored papers), I took a my second-choice post-doc at Big State U, landed a TT job at Medium State U, and am moving to Big Research U this year. Each of these steps involved some things not working, but the key was to avoid letting them drag me down, either psychologically or in terms of actual productivity. I guess I should also point out that I had mentors who were very supportive of my various project switches. So if your advisor is a barrier rather than a bridge to exciting new projects, you should definitely look for someone more supportive.

  • FemaleAssistantProfessor says:

    Unfortunately I think that trusting the advisor would not be enough for me, if only for the reason that I would be afraid that I would not be able to help this postdoc of mine find a future academic job without a reasonable amount of publications. And since I am a junior professor myself, I don't kid myself that in a 3-year postdoc with me the student would be able to suddenly crank out 4-5 papers (although that would be great if it happened!). Basically, if the student is not thinking of staying in academia, then there is no point in doing a postdoc. If the goal _is_ to stay in academia, then all the above advice is correct: find a way to get some publications out the PhD somehow. Even one or two small ones are a better start than none, and will allow you to find a postdoc, continue publishing, and eventually get a good job.

  • GradStudentAbroad says:

    1) breathe. notice the ways in which the world is wonderful.
    2) whenever you start to stress out, remind yourself that the worst case scenario is not as bad as you think it is: you will have other options (good jobs outside of academia, for example), and if the "worst" happened, you would still know how to cope. Also, decent postdocs might not be as hard to come by as you imagine. Ask yourself: Is it really true that you are a failure as a person / will be unhappy forever / will die sad and alone in a ditch if you do not write a lot of publications / get a good postdoc / land a tenure track job (or whatever it is that is causing you the most stress)?
    3) work a little less and think a little more about what you are really doing, in the *big* picture: clarify your values and priorities, what do you want in life and why, which part of a tenure track career is so important to you, and can you get that somewhere else if needed?
    4) if the horse is dead, stop beating it and look for something -- anything -- better to do that will advance you towards your priorities. pick smaller, more achievable goals, so you can have the feeling that you are getting somewhere. (& try to focus less on end results and more on process)
    5) branch out and develop some other skills (learn a new analytical technique, write a lit review, join a debate club to hone your speaking skills, focus more on teaching skills for a while, do some volunteer work & use it to develop leadership and communication skills, whatever). and if you don't already have a hobby -- get one.
    6) not to be forgotten: talk to your advisor about it, and anyone else who might be able to help.
    7) help out other people with their problems. You will feel better, they will remember, and they might be able to help you later on.
    8) reframe the situation as a chance to develop coping strategies, new skills, and become clearer about your values and priorities. Not to mention to grow as a person.

  • ScientistGirl says:

    I agree with some of the above posters. If this student's goal is to end up in academia, then having little to no publications resulting from his/her PhD work will stick out like a sore thumb, even if he/she manages to get published as a post-doc.

    I recently went through the tenure track search. I had several publications from my post-doc and graduate school. A couple of my grad school papers were "in preparation" - they were completed and sitting on my former PI's desk waiting to be submitted. I was questioned about the "in preparation" status at several interviews. Once I explained that the papers were done and waiting to be submitted, people understood. But, if i did not have these publications at all, it is hard to imagine that I would have even received these interview opportunities. Papers are the currency of academia. You must publish in order to be viewed as a someone who could be invested in (i.e, receive a start up package and be hired as junior faculty).

    My suggestions are to find a way to get publications from the PhD. Even if they are short communications, or review articles, do it. See if there is a way to be a coauthor on a colleague's paper. Also, consider starting a parallel project. I did this during my post-doc, when my main project was progressing slowly, and the parallel project resulted in more publications than the original project.

    Good luck!

  • Lots of comments and interesting discussion. I recall my trepidation when I started doing research in physical chemistry. It was great to be given projects, but, I worried, what about when I am on my own? What will I do?

    My worries were not well founded and I think it is common with all research that we often do not know what is around the corner; we make a lot of mistakes, and come to realize that to do research you must make mistakes; and there is no lack of interesting things to do.

    So, yes, I would hire a post doc without publications although I would look at the thesis.

  • Lu says:

    Wait, you have only one project?
    I was working on at least eight over the years three of which gave some publishable results.
    You cannot invest everything in just one project, the success rate is way below 50%

  • Candid Engineer says:

    Year 3 was the worst year of my PhD and many other successful scientists of whom I know. All is not lost- you recognize the problem and are asking how you can succeed in spite of this. As others have said, you must find some other project(s).

    One of the best ways to get your wheels turning is to start working with someone else in your lab- offer to help with their work in exchange for authorship. You will develop ideas as you work that you can translate into your own projects, and you will learn new lab skills to boot. Finally, be proactive about publishing the work you eventually find yourself doing. Find surrogate mentors to help with this if your famous advisor is too busy (postdocs can be great for this, particularly those with academic aspirations).

    Good luck, keep a positive attitude, and everything will work out.

  • DrDoyenne says:

    I would probably not hire this person as a post doc. There are several options that one could take in such a situation, other than giving up. There may be time to do some quick experiments, write a review paper or some other article using published data (or perhaps unpublished data of one's advisor), or perhaps work with a committee member who might need help on a project. I would hire someone like this, because it would show their ability to face and overcome problems, which are usual in research....even over someone who sailed through their program.

    During my graduate work, I had several projects going, some on my own, some with other grad students, even one with a visiting professor. I always have my students working on alternative projects that offer a fallback in case their main project goes awry.

  • I. M. Flaud says:

    The Ph.D. student is in a better position than I am.

    Two years ago I joined a research group as a research associate. My intention in obtaining that position was to publish with the group and build some academic capital, but in the two years I have been there, I have been steered toward support work and software development, and away from research. I have not been included in any of the group's publications and have had to publish unrelated work on my own.

    Subsequently I learned that to justify the Ph.D. requirement for the position I hold, my employers added a few sentences to the job description to suggest that research would be the central focus of the work. Within my group I am seen as a system administrator and IT guy. This is apparently what my employers really wanted. The job description was for a research associate, however, and does not mention any of this.

    I have been told that, in addition to upgrading the network of the research group, running their systems and installing software, the programming projects I am an on count as "research", but in fact building a web-enabled GUI has low academic value and is unpublishable. One of them is a tremendous time sink that makes it difficult to work on the one project in all of this that has some publication potential.

    At this stage, I have decided to leave academia. It is self-defeating for me to continue supporting professors, postdocs, and postgraduate and undergraduate students, doing low academic value support work that cannot lead to publications. As a matter of principle, I will no longer do support work in academia--certainly not under the pretense of being hired as a researcher. I have tried to bring this matter up, but I was told that my focus was on system administration--for now. In that case, my focus is on leaving--for now.

  • Gwonk says:

    I spent 22 months on a project that had NO chance of working, but I didn't know that until I really became an expert in the field. After repeated attempts at getting reagents my PI wouldn't buy because they are so expensive, I lost a LOT of confidence, especially when another student (who couldn't even mix solutions correctly) magically began doing everything perfectly and stumbled on interesting results. I was forced to do comps early and after the initial committee meeting I overheard my PI through the very thin room door say that I was dead weight, useless, incompetent and basically unfit for a PhD. I had health issues brought on by the massive stress of working 70 hours a week on HIS project and he wouldn't let me do my own thing. The little side projects he tried to give me didn't work well because my health and confidence were broken. He used the fact that I wasn't well against me during the meeting...I went in and quit the next day. Fortunately, I had informed my senior committee member and graduate director months in advance so when I quit, they knew and I had their blessing. I chose a new mentor and I am trying to get back on track.

    I'm now starting my 4th year and I'm in a new department on a totally new project. Thankfully my previous 10 years of science experience (I did an MS and worked as a tech a number of years before PhD school) are keeping me afloat, but my project is new and kind of nebulous. I'm constantly worried about falling behind and I am just now starting to recover my health and memory from that last lab.

    The only 100% certain way you can fail a PhD program is to give up; you'll have at least SOME chance of success in any other situation. Just don't give up and take care of your health above ALL else. If you break your mind and body you will NEVER get the degree....because it will force you to give up.

    My previous advisor will most likely not get tenure after putting out 3 or 4 low impact pubs (I never even got offered a CHANCE to get a junior authorship...the jerk!) and that alone is enough revenge for me to enjoy. The dozens of times where he lorded his degree, postdoc and grant skills over me...I guess his vaunted way of science isn't so great, after all.

    • Gwonk says:

      I also heard that he is working double time on my old project and has yet to accomplish ANYTHING on it....just like I told him. He even bought all those reagents for himself that he wouldn't let me have.

      Sometimes, time is the best way to get over things. I see him from time to time and just smile as big as I can.

  • Gwonk says:

    Sorry for the multiple replies but I also wanted to add that getting out of lab and into nature is the best way to unwind, sometimes.

    Living in the Pacific Northwest certainly has its' advantages 😉

  • Unlucky PhD Student says:

    Hi
    I have been working on a Phd Project. It was going fine with good results until last month when i discovered that some of my Major work was due to a contamination in my samples. Adding insult to the injury , the freezer in my lab broke down last week and all my precious reagents got wasted (which i was supposed to use to repeat the contaminated experiments). Its my last year of phd (still 10 months left). I am very frustrated. Almost all of my work had that contamination and i have also found that i was unable to get positive result when contamination was removed in some of major experiments.... I dont know what to do because i stand no where now. I am even mentally ready for a pity phd because a failure will be a death blow as i have taken a big loan to do this phd, and a failure means death for me.... I wish i would have never started PhD