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The experimental conundrum

It's been more than eight months since I took the decision to try my hands at experiments. It was a crazy decision to say the least. I have gone from "Hah! What was I thinking!!" to "God! This is so taxing!" to "Yeah! I own this shit. No big deal." It's been frustrating and overwhelming and yet so worth the time and effort I put in. 

When I started out last year, it was the first time in 7 years that I even held a beaker or a conical flask in my hand, let alone a living organism like a worm. I was unsure if I would be any good and it seemed overwhelming. But, I took the plunge anyway. In the beginning I was excited about this fresh challenge. Call it my ignorance, but what I didn't realize at the time was that I would have to be attuned to the worm's and its food, the bacteria's, life cycle. This meant that some steps of the experimental protocol would fall late at night or early in the morning. And so, I became the legendary sleep deprived biologist who was awake feeding the lab animal at odd hours. 

It's been a learning experience though. I failed at experiments multiple times due to various reasons some of which were quite silly. Either because of bad planning, I couldn't keep time, or my stuff got contaminated or a third worse scenario when I forgot an important step or ingredient. But, unlike theoretical modeling, I couldn't start over immediately. I needed to do the preliminary steps or prepare media all over again which took up to 2-3 days. This just made me realize how important planning and creating backups was. 

Doing experiments myself has also given me an appreciation for the effort that one puts in to generate real-time data. The experimentalist literally owns her data, knowing every single detail like no one else. And this is valuable knowledge, sometimes leading to fresh research problems. I have also accepted the fact that the first time I learn something new, I am going to fail. There are skills in the experimental world that require practice and there is absolutely no way around it. But, there is also no greater joy when you perfect that skill and get it right. 

Here's to more such crazy challenges and greater pay-offs, hopefully. *fingers crossed*

xxRS

Comments

  1. Good!
    I particularly like the last point, when you do the experiment the data are yours, and that no one else knows the data the way you do, you know every detail of it.

    In my case, I work with the study of others' speech, which means I need to see not just what they say, but also how they say that, their words, accent, intonation. For a professor in our univerfsity system, where I have been for somne years, it is possible to ask one of your students to transcribe the speech. Transcribing other's speech is so monotonous, and so fatally boring! You will still see the gross details when your students do this. But, you have rightly said, when I do it myself, overcoming my reluctance at such a mundane chore, I see things which I never would otherwise. I would never know that an American scientist of Indian origin, in spite of decades in the U S, stresses the penultimate vowel in Biology and adds a vowel before students, or inserts a vowel in film, making it a bi-syllabic word. Hands do not just feed mouths, they also feed brains!

    Good luck! Keep your fingers busy too!

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    1. Thanks a lot for your insightful comment. Especially like how you've so beautifully summarized my whole thought in "Hands do not just feed mouths, they also feed brains!" :)

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