- Obtaining equipment
- Contacting the manufacturer when it breaks down
- Contacting them again if they don’t get back to you
- Figuring out how to fix it yourself
- Dealing with administration
- Getting safety or ethical clearance
- Finding someone with expertise you need
- Managing your data or samples
- Finding funding …
The burden of expectation
Dealing with the practical side of research can be tough, and there are always problems you didn’t anticipate. Because most PhD students are accustomed to succeeding, these problems and delays can cause you to doubt your own ability. So don’t put yourself under too much pressure to get results straight away. If there are practical obstacles to overcome, focus on those first!
Get to know people in your department. Get to know secretaries, technicians; the people who can make things happen. Say hello to them if you pass them in the corridor. Then they’ll be much more inclined to give you help when you need it.
Phone calls beat email. If you are contacting a supplier (or anyone), a phone call is much more powerful than email. If you sent an email and never got a reply, don’t give up, pick up the phone!
Do small trial runs. Because some problems don’t appear until you actually try something, it’s often a good idea to try a small scale practice run. That way, you can adapt your approach before committing to the real thing.
Be patient but persistent. Don’t expect everything to work out perfectly immediately, but don’t sit and wait either. Keep pushing and keep adapting!