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Keeping Your Chin Up in the Lab

Science can be a very frustrating field of study. Experiments often don’t work…for heaven knows what reason! There are multiple hoops to jump through (depending on your project) to actually getting some data; there are hours of prep work that, more than often, go to waste. A couple months ago, that was me – hoop jumping and prep-wasting. However, all that jazz became thoroughly worth it when my difficult experiment finally worked in its entirety. The reward and satisfaction I felt was amazing, and the previous ugliness became tinged with a hue of pink.

The very next day though, my experiment went back to making no sense whatsoever. I literally wanted to punch a wall, because I felt that the confusion and anger this elicited eclipsed my earlier successes of the week. I felt that I was back to square one. The rest of my day was ruined and I felt that I was progressing backwards.

However, the following morning I woke up and realized it wasn’t a set back. I was making steps forward – slow, but steady. In order to work in science, you need a tough skin – or the acquirement of one really fast! When experiments don’t work I naturally view that as a failure…but in the clarity of the next day, I know they are not failures. I’m merely learning about new aspects of the experiments, and what not to do in the future. Some of my best ideas for my project, or in adapting the techniques I’ve learnt, have come in moments of “failure”.

Sometimes the fear of the experiment failing can be overwhelming. As a grad student, I find my mood so dependent on the success of my experiments that sometimes I hesitate to actually attempt an experiment for fear that the rest of my day will be soured. However, not attempting an experiment, because of the fear of failure and its adverse mood effects, is actually a greater failure in itself. It hinders advancement. Whether the experiment works or not, you’re still getting somewhere and learning something. Maybe it’s not as big a success as the entire experiment working…BUT it’s still a small success! Small successes are so important to appreciate, because it takes many, many small successes to make a big success in science. As a grad student, it’s important to focus on appreciating the small successes instead of berating oneself for not achieving the big one. It’s all the more sweeter when you actually do!

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Member Since: Feb 25, 2011

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