In a little less than three weeks, I will defend my masters. This is scary not because I think I'm likely to fail, but because I want to do the most excellent job I could ever do and I've no idea what this means or how to do it.
Part of this has to do with the fact that my project was built to look at a problem from multiple angles, with each perspective designed to evaluate the question in slightly different way. In my dreams, these different perspectives would be in agreement and solidify some core truth about microbes breaking down carbon. But, of course 50% of the evidence supports my hypotheses, 50% opposes it, and the best overall explanation for my results may just be experimental artifacts my controls may not have fully accounted for.
How can I do an excellent job with results that won't give a fairytale ending? Do I do more analyses with the risk of complicating the results further? Collect new data? Read more papers and empathize with the confuzzled results? Romanticize about the beautiful stochasticities of the natural world which periodically hide true, biologically-meaningful patterns?
Do I share my data and analyses with my advisor prior to my defense? If I did it right, maybe she'll be proud of my competence and ability to develop and assess ideas independently. And isn't training independent thinkers a key part of an advisor's role? But if I did it wrong, then what if my incompetence humiliates her in front of her peers?
As a member of her lab, I am constantly conferring with my colleagues about how we can best serve team Kristen to try and repay the great kindness and fearless leadership she has shown to us. So ultimately, doing the most excellent job I could ever do means doing everything in my power to do my advisor proud, and to represent her team well.
If only I knew how to act on that in this instance...