I have recently obtained an undergraduate degree in Computer Science with excellent performance and shortly afterwards got a research assistant post for a two-year industry-university collaboration project with the professors I worked with. The perks of this job are a modest salary for two years and an opportunity to get a postgraduate degree in a project-related area which will be partly covered by this post. I would be doing R&D work for the rest of my two years.
Upon joining, my professors and myself spent many days trying to formulate a research idea that makes sense in the project's context. We finally proposed an idea and loosely specified its details to our project partners and we got their approval. Work started immediately.
To our surprise, our industry partners revealed that they went ahead and implemented a massive chunk of work that was assigned to my team on their own accord. They were faster and produced higher quality work. It was later revealed to us that our partners had attempted similar endeavours in the past and had a lot of groundwork ready.
One may question the communication strategy of all involved stakeholders. We have been operating with regular meetings and on-site visits as frequent as once every week in which we exchange progress and ideas but we did not exchange any artefacts.
There is actually quite a small amount of work left from my team, but it seems that our partners did a lot of work overlapping with ours. Now that we are at the end of our project and we have to communicate with our funding agents, we must detail some results in a report and that would be the end of the project.
I feel useless and a fraud. I did a lot of R&D work on projects that are very niche and not likely to find any adoption in practice. Also, some work is incomplete. I did many sleepless nights and unpaid overtime hours on the essential parts of this project but industry partners finished the same work quickly and without my contribution, thus possibly invalidating my work in a sense. This also makes me wonder if it is justified that I feel an element of disrespect and mistrust. But worst of all, I feel scared. Many of our interactions are undocumented - it is time to produce reports for our funding agents and I can't help but wonder if my or my professor's reputation are at risk and whether funding will be questioned.
How can I act diplomatically in this context and defend funding? Everyone worked very hard. How can I maintain good relationships? Is this normal in research projects or is this form of research not for me? Is it time to quit?