I am in my second semester of a MS in engineering.

While classwork is fine, research is not going well. I wrote the first few pages of my thesis and basically everything was wrong: formatting, writing style, poor graphs and figures. The results my codes are calculating show that my method makes no improvement to current methodology and sometimes its actually worse.

My adviser and I keep having miscommunications, and I keep disappointing compared to what I originally showed when we first starting working together. He won't ever tell me directly that I am failing but I can sense his attitude while we talk.

Due to my job, classes, and thesis work, I have no hobbies and I only sleep every other day.

Is this a normal amount of struggle everyone goes through and I'm overthinking it. Or is this an indication that grad school is not for me?

If I do quit, I will not be able to get a job at a good engineering company due to an average GPA in undergrad.

EDIT: This is an edit for anyone else who might have tendencies to get stress paranoia and start spiraling down negative paths.

I entirely overestimated the situation, my adviser was perfectly chill about everything, and the issues I thought I was going to get reamed over, were discussed and resolved in about a minute. Instead of criticism, he helped explain a math issue I had, and even let me know some higher-level industry folks he knows were interested in my work.

PSA for people like me (who probably are going to be like me and still worry over everything), making mountains out molehills in your own head is not a wise course of action.

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    This is not normal. Is it possible for you to pause your MS for a couple of weeks? I recommend getting some proper sleep straight away and an appointment with a counsellor or similar, to discuss how you can manage the stress you are experiencing in a healthy way. – astronat Sep 6 '18 at 21:36
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    Given as little sleep and relaxation as you indicate, any productivity would be a miracle. You need to take a break. – Patricia Shanahan Sep 6 '18 at 22:01
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    Go to sleep. You don't work better exhausted. – Fomite Sep 6 '18 at 22:06
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    And please, please do not make any long term decisions until you have caught up on sleep and taken a break. – Patricia Shanahan Sep 7 '18 at 2:08

The results my codes are calculating show that my method makes no improvement to current methodology and sometimes its actually worse.

For a master's degree, there is usually no requirement that your research produce a successful result. One can make a contribution to science by showing others what doesn't work. But you may find that your new method is an improvement under certain circumstances. Or you may get an idea (after you get some sleep!) for improving your method. That's exactly what happened to me.

Given your lack of sleep and your state of mind, I'm not sure you should trust your impression that your advisor is disappointed in you. I recommend you have a heart-to-heart talk with your advisor, being as open as you can about all your concerns and fears, including that you are stressed out and not sleeping. It's very common for students to feel like failures at some point during a master's degree, and your advisor should be ready to help.

I wrote the first few pages of my thesis and basically everything was wrong: formatting, writing style, poor graphs and figures.

Academic writing is a very different beast than the types of writing you've done before in school. No one is born knowing how to do it. Expect to have to do a lot of rewriting as you learn this skill.

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  • While I wasn't able to take your advice last night, I do realize this now that I was overthinking and hyper-worrying in the grand scheme of things. I have a habit of assuming that others have negative perceptions of me unless directly proven otherwise, and when tired it becomes borderline paranoia. I have a meeting in a few hours with my advisor, I will either work it out there or start job hunting for real. – user97794 Sep 7 '18 at 13:28

It sounds to me like you've hit a wall. It isn't really uncommon, actually. The comments that suggest you get proper sleep are good, of course - things just get worse if you work exhausted.

I don't know what your undergraduate experience was like, but for some students who had a fairly easy time as an undergrad find that, suddenly, things are bad. Really bad. Everyone (or nearly so) will eventually reach a stage when natural ability doesn't carry them over the hard parts anymore and only hard work will get them through. The wall isn't impossible to get through, so it isn't a sign of failure. It is just hard.

But before you make any decisions about quitting, first make a list of all your options. What would you do if you don't continue. Is that a pleasurable thing or not? Would your life if you quit be better in, say, ten or so years or not. You probably have several options for your professional life, so try to make a list. Include what it would take to move to one of those options instead of your current one. How much time/money/work to get you there?

I suggest writing them down so you make a formal search out of it.

Compare those options. If none are better than just pushing through the wall, then you have your decision.

Know, however, that a lot of people hit that wall. Maybe not as hard as you have, but pretty hard. Many continue. But knowing your options will help.

But you will probably also need to change your actions a bit. The first paragraph of your question doesn't sound like an especially hard issue at your point in your education. It isn't often the case that the first time you try research you hit the mark immediately. Like many things it can take re-work and practice. The first time a person gets thrown in the pool they aren't likely to be effective swimmers.

But it is probably a mistake to avoid your advisor. The disappointment may be only on your side. Perhaps he/she will have some advice.

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