I am an integrated master student doing a rather short project of only 4months in the lab (due to covid). The project is quite a weird one as it either works or it doesn't and if it doesn't I have no data at all cause it is a cell based project. I'm about a month in and my cells keep dying and I have no data. I am super concerned that I'll have nothing to show or write up at the end of my project. I want to ask my supervisor if I could simultaneously work on something that would generate data fast as a backup project if this fails to generate any data but I'm not sure if it would look like I'm "giving up" on this project. Also, I have only 3 months left to start a new project. I'm not entirely sure how to deal with the situation. Additionally, I am currently applying to PhD and would need my current supervisor's to act as a referee.



2 Answers 2


Yes, you could ask your question, but you could also ask a different one as well. "What do these dying cells really tell us and can we gain some scientific insight from that?"

I suspect that you could formulate it better, but the idea that a "failed experiment" yields nothing is false. Negative data is still data. The fact that something doesn't work is still, in some cases, valuable scientific information.

I can't say for sure that this is the case here, of course, but it might be worth exploring it with your advisor.

  • Yeah that is completely true. My concern is that the cells are dying before I can do any real experiments on them and it takes about 2months to get to a stage where we can do real experiments. But the fact that they are dying a month in, doesn't bode very well for downstream work on this. It also means that I sort of get another go at it and my project is over
    – user132202
    Nov 29, 2020 at 15:56

The only real answer is go talk to your supervisor. And do it sooner rather than later. If you have 3 months left and your cells take 2 months to grow, then every day counts. You need to e-mail him soon. Today would be best, tomorrow would be okay, don't wait longer than that.

If you are concerned that your backup idea sounds like "giving up" then one approach is to come in with two or three suggestions and ask your supervisor which one he think is best. Or don't even suggest the backup idea at all. Just state the facts and ask for advice: "My cells keep dying. Do you have any suggestions?"

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