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I have been working independently on a research project for the past few months and I am almost ready to actually conduct the experiment. The experiment itself should only take two hours. However, I seem to get a lot of anxiety when thinking about carrying out the experiment (especially because I will be conducting it completely independently): what happens if I do something wrong, forget something, etc? I was wondering if anyone had any tips on conducting an experiment without too much stress. I am sure that once I started the experiment, it won't be too bad; getting started is the hard part. Thank you!

  • Can you do the experiment more than once? – Anonymous Physicist Feb 21 '17 at 2:48
  • Yes, I can. I have a deadline to meet, but I would probably be able to conduct the experiment again if needed – dts Feb 21 '17 at 2:49
  • Could you recruit a fellow student to be nearby, on call, in case you need another human being at a key moment? People who worry about getting caught in the rain find it reassuring to carry an umbrella. Also, are there any parts of the procedure you could try ahead of time, as a dry run? – aparente001 Feb 21 '17 at 4:04
  • As I will be running the experiment from home, I will not be able to have another student to help. However, I think that I can try some parts ahead of time. Thank you for the suggestion! – dts Feb 21 '17 at 4:46
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    What field are you in? What kind of experiment are you running? What do you need to do in the experiment? e.g., a chemistry experiment is very different from an experiment in psychology. – Jeromy Anglim Feb 21 '17 at 5:00
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This question is only vaguely related to Academia, honestly; the tips we can give you here apply equally well to virtually any project you'll ever run.

First thing: given that you're new at this, you will probably screw up something at some point, so just internalize that. You're new, the field is new, and things go wrong when its a first time. Most likely every single person you're working with already knows this; the sooner you appreciate it yourself the better off (and less stressed) you'll be.

The best tip I can say is, if possible, do a dry run. Test all equipment, test your scripts (if you have), make sure you have an accurate and detailed checklist of what you need to do at each step, and what to do when something goes wrong at each step. Even better, do this walkthrough with whoever maintains the equipment and have them watch you for mistakes. You will make mistakes; that's cool, just acknowledge them and move on.

If you can't do a dry run then just familiarize yourself with equipment as best you can. Make sure you know what you're doing and when you're doing it. If there's something you're really nervous about—breaking a $2M machine, for example—talk to the technicians or previous students and make sure you know which parts you need to be careful around.

Long story short, recognize that newbies make mistakes. Make sure you know which mistakes you really don't want to make, and don't do those ones; you'll be fine.

  • "Do a dry run" is I think literally the best answer. OP is (correctly) nervous because something will go wrong the first one or two times (s)he tries this. Make sure to get the hang of the procedural part of the experiment before starting the actual experiment. – xLeitix Feb 21 '17 at 15:33
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    Along with the dry run, take detailed notes - that way, when you do the real experiment, you are following a script rather than trying to work off your memory which should help alleviate anxiety that you might miss a step. – Bryan Krause Feb 21 '17 at 15:47
  • @BryanKrause - That's a great point. dts, since you mentioned only having two hours, you may want to consider dictating your log notes to an audio recording device during the experiment, rather than writing them down. – aparente001 Feb 21 '17 at 17:38

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