Education, Research, Science

The Challenge of Novelty

Hello again, and happy September!

It seems like my posting is now becoming monthly, instead of weekly – and for this, I apologize! Research has been keeping me busy, along with other things. By the time I finish my work for the day and have dinner, all I want to do is relax! (And study Japanese, which I’ve been determined to make time for in the evenings as consistently as possible.)

I originally wanted to call this post “The Challenge of Failure,” but I remembered something I read recently:

You can surprise yourself if you focus, follow the procedure, and stick with it, stick with it, stick with it.

– Bill Nye, Everything All At Once

I’ve been having a tough time in lab over the past few months, with some rough weeks of seemingly nonstop obstacles that, at the time, felt impossible to bounce back from. I’ll be honest here: those were the days that I questioned if I would ever figure it out. And to be honest, I’m still having days like this.

But back to the title: novelty, not failure, is the challenge I am having.

In the beginning of the summer, things were going great. I was learning new skills, taking lots of notes, reading papers – and then, it all started going south in July. It felt like everything I touched just messed up completely, even though I followed all the procedures and took my time. It’s been incredibly frustrating (still is, not going to lie), but experiencing all of this is part-and-parcel of being a scientist. If I’m going to make this my life’s work, I should know what it really feels like when stuff doesn’t work.

I talked about this in a previous post, but it’s worth mentioning here: undergraduate laboratory classes make science sound like baking. If you follow the recipe, bam! You did science! Your experiment went off without a hitch! You got ideal results! Hooray! Unfortunately, this is far from the truth – even more so for beginner researchers like myself. Stuff doesn’t work more often than not, and it’s easy to get so excited when it does work that when it doesn’t, you feel discouraged (ding dong, is that Imposter Syndrome? I’ll be writing about this in a future post).

And this is where the novelty comes in: being in an actual lab, planning and doing experiments from scratch – start to finish – is completely different than reading about them in lab manuals or textbooks, or having the TAs make everything for you. (Most undergraduate laboratory classes are like this simply because there isn’t enough time for students to make reagents or gels, let alone have sufficient supplies to do so.)

I’m still getting my scientist shoes on, but at least the shoelaces are threaded through the holes. Tying them is the next step – for me, that’s completing my thesis and graduating – and then it’ll be time to start using those shoes, in a job.

I’ll leave this post with one more lovely quote from Bill Nye’s new book:

“[Knowledge] promises that tomorrow will be better than today – because we will make it so.”

When lab days get tough, I just have to stick with it, stick with it, stick with it.

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