Experimental Research Challenges

“You will not get through if you feel stressed. What you need to do is only keep focus and feel relaxed. You will get through it”.

That’s what my supervisor said when I said I always think about writing-up and finishing my thesis. My end of PhD journey perhaps is not very good one. There are still problems in experiments, while the time is only 4 months more.

Winny, it’s very close. This gas washing bottle makes great improvement. After this you will produce good results. And the analytical techniques are pretty quick right”. He kept telling me this despite the all problems I faced on the experimental rig. I hope so.

I don’t know what happens with this experiment study. But perhaps, all the challenges I have been facing are really the way Allah Swt teaches me how to be persistent, diligent, think smart and clearly. I used to keep comparing my PhD experiment with my final year project. But it’s not the way. In the final year project, I did with my colleague, the university have established support and technical service, and we were given very good guidance right from the start from supervisors. In PhD, I have to figure out what are the design, how it works, even using trial and error approach. I taught my self to be a technician and mechanic; even at first it was really hard because as chemical engineer, I couldn’t get that “mechanical” sense. While doing experimental science, most of I have doing is tightening thread using screw. But if I kept saying “I am not mechanic, please somebody help me!!!” it won’t work. Yes, I can ask helps from technicians, but they don’t know my experimental system. I can ask my supervisors, and they will only give advices, perhaps very good advices that I couldn’t think early. And my duty is to implement their advices.

In my experimental study, there are a lot of fail experiments. Since early time this year, I wondered why my experiments always failed. No wonder I often shed tears because didn’t know what’s happened. First, the heating element in the furnace was open circuit. It was repaired by a furnace services. Then, an unusual cold and humid condition in Melbourne made my condenser full of water. So I thought no magnesium condensation in the system because of water penetrating my system. Then I figured out how to stay dry, and thanks the weather is not humid anymore. Then the experiments are still failed. After several experiments, ICP analysis showed that the composition of reacted pellets was still the same with un-reacted ones. The microscopic analysis also showed that there was sintering of the particles, but no reaction products. Then my supervisor asked to get a gas washing bottle, to check the gas is flowing inside the system. After buying that apparatus (about $230 which takes 3 weeks…. Not common in Indonesia, I reckon), we found that there was some leakages from the fittings. Until now downs to one particular part which is a thermocouple hole.

I hope this is the end. I am running with time. And tomorrow is Easter break, a five days holiday and the university is closed. I can’t do experiment, but I may finishing writing Chapter 8 about kinetics. Chapter 1 to 6 now is being read by my supervisor. Chapter 7 is experimental results, which is on going, and Chapter 9 & 10 is discussion and conclusion. I have to keep my working speed like this, hopefully keep and stay sane, doing experiments during the day, writing thesis at night. I miss my colleague a lot. We used to chat about our research progress, even did some good swimming work-out before going back to campus to start working. I need keep focused and relaxed, as my supervisor said, to be able to work good and efficient. Perhaps I feel relaxed because I have Affan, my son, at home. He is growing beautifully. He likes his school, always happy and knows his mum is working. He waits me patiently until I am able to play and teach him things. Children is very “pure”, they shows what human supposed to do.

Okay, finish these sentimental things. There will long holiday, time to feel relaxed before getting to work again. Many people have done it, have finished PhD. I may not be like some of my friends who is single and have 12 work time everyday. But I have little family who love me, husband who supports me, a patient child, and they give endless love to me everyday. I have mom and dad at Indonesia who pray for me, ask me how is it going, and an Islamic teacher who always reminds me on keep my relationship with Allah swt, to make my work “barakah”.

Bismillah… Winny, keep spirit high!!!

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