This week’s theme is about the worst mistake we’ve made.
I have a few doozies, but I think I’ll stick to one that caused me to break down and cry in front of my advisor…although the crying wasn’t great, either.
I knew I was going to be finishing up my master’s and was trying to decide where to go for my doctorate. Unfortunately, I didn’t know if I was going to be accepted to any of the universities I’d applied to. I did know that my advisor was very willing to keep me on as a doctoral student.
With this in mind, I decided to spend the last semester of my master’s program doing something very stupid: taking classes. As I’m prone to doing, I seriously underestimated how much time I would need to write my thesis, and thought I would be fine doing it alongside two classes (and an assistantship and two kids). I also figured there was a good possibility I’d be staying where I was and that the classes would help me knock out some credit requirements for the doctorate.
After I’d barely finished my first chapter at spring break, I knew I was in trouble. I ended up dropping one of the classes…one in which I’d aced the first test, of all things. I was supposed to have my rough draft to my committee a week before my defense, but when my advisor got it and read it, things went bad. He called me on the phone.
“You could defend…but I’m not sure you’ll pass.” I knew he was right, but I still started crying. (It was terribly embarrassing, to say the least.)
You see, in the process of writing my thesis, I discovered some problems with the software we were using. These were things that I hadn’t noticed until I compiled the data for the thesis, and at that point, I could only try to get it done.
I pushed off my defense one month and set about to figure out what had happened. It turned out that the fix was fairly simple, although I did a lot of work to validate what I had. The problem came about when I used an imaginary value in a place where I shouldn’t have. In all fairness, the documentation never said it wasn’t acceptable, and I’m still at a loss to figure out why it allows you to enter imaginary numbers when they cause errors. Once I made the change, however, I found that my antennas were radiating less than was being put into them…which is the way it should be!
I managed to defend the following month. I handed in the final draft of my thesis about a month later, and then walked out to my car and literally drove to my new university that same day. I cut it way too close for comfort, and realized I should have heeded the advice to skip the classes and focus on my thesis.
I learned that I really need to overestimate how long it will take me to finish something so that I can be pleased if it takes less, not stressed when I don’t meet those deadlines.