Do you remember playing the classic game of Snakes and Ladders? You probably recall the excitement of nearing the finish line, only to be thwarted by a snake just before reaching the end. It’s a frustrating feeling that many of us can relate to from childhood.
It’s not far off from how it can feel to be an academic researcher at times!
As rewarding as it is, scientific research is also full of unpredictable highs and lows. Chloe Kirk, a graduate student working in cancer biology at the University of Miami, discusses this regularly on her STEM blog.
Failure is a part of success – scientific research also has its fair share of ups and downs. Being a Ph.D. candidate, Chloe is regularly conducting research, highlighting that it isn’t all award-winning papers and Western blots. Sometimes the research doesn’t pan out as planned.
No scientist wants their results to be anything other than perfect, but it’s inevitable in a field where you are constantly trying new things and pushing the envelope of human knowledge. At times, months or even years’ worth of work goes down the drain, which is disheartening for any scientist.
The cause of these errors may include technical difficulties, the proposed hypothesis being incorrect, or the results not complying with the ones in the original study. Dealing with these results can be a bit more difficult when you don’t know what to do in this situation.
Chloe listed a few ways that she handles when experiments don’t work out:
Learn From Failure
Negative results are still results. Scientific trainees often get stressed or disheartened quickly when the experiments performed and data analyzed disprove their hypothesis, but think of this as an opportunity for you to understand and learn from what you did wrong. You can learn much from your mistakes which can help in further research. Don’t be hasty in discarding your entire data.
Focus on the Positive
Time and again in scientific history, it happened when negative results were retraced; they gave results that were a breakthrough for other areas of inquiry. Anomalies can lead to new discoveries. So, focus on the positive and view failure as an opportunity for unexpected growth.
Ask For Help
When facing problems you can’t solve on your own; it is always a good idea to ask for help. Talk it out with your supervisors, and be open to the feedback coming your way. Keep in mind that it vastly helps you in addressing the specific issues in your data. When you discuss your issue, you may realize that your results weren’t as bad as you thought and can be fixed.
The bottom line is that your mistakes don’t matter as much as what you do about them. Chloe proves that there can be multiple positive sides to an apparent failure. It is your attitude that defines whether a research result is a lost cause or not.
For more tips and advice about life, science, and tackling the demanding lab life, follow Chloe on Instagram.
Connect with her on LinkedIn to view her impressive academic journey.
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