Not An Epiphany

So I realised that if I was going to wait for a research-based epiphany (see: A letter to myself in six months’ time, when things are likely to not be going as well as they are right now (because generally they aren’t)for every blog post that I come to write, then I might not end up writing too many blog posts.

While it would be nice to only write about meaningful stuff that people from all disciplines/ walks of life can relate to, I’m going to be honest and say: I don’t always have much meaningful stuff to say (see: Mrs Jones).

So here is a blog post about not much at all, other than what I have been up to/ thinking about/ avoiding.

I managed to complete a first draft of my confirmation document while I was overseas visiting family, so I don’t need to feel guilty about taking that much time off (I’m really good at feeling guilty, see: Competitive Busy-ness). All that time away from the lab and scientists was kind of refreshing, but also a bit terrifying… I am so tied up in all this crap! It’s weird to go for weeks at a time without talking about my project or even science, really. As I said to my mother, RE: doing a PhD but being temporarily surrounded by people who don’t understand (hats off to them for finding more interesting things to fill their brains with, really!) and couldn’t, even if they wanted to (none of them do):

“It’s a bit like having a baby, but no one can see it.”

I’m back at work now and waiting on a date for my confirmation, as well as hanging onto opportunities to discuss my ideas with my supervisor, who is tied down with NHMRC grant applications. I’ve been back two weeks but only just bought up the courage to get back into the lab again today. It is not my happy place.

I need to start running western blots too in order to confirm all my data from last year, which I am not looking forward to. I’ve been reading but I know the learning only really begins when you’ve run it and failed at least four times. Which will happen, trust me.

(Why am I here?!)

I’m trying to get organised and go paperless too. I have accumulated a lot of notebooks and none of them are much organised. Also my bad memory makes it hard for me to go back and find anything. Goddamn I love Ctrl+F. I’m attempting to switch to Evernote, in which I am keeping a daily work journal of aims and accomplishments as well as notes on protocols and readings and OF COURSE: a lab book. Last year I made the mistake of being too embarrassed (I know, I’m an idiot) to make notes in my lab book concerning my ideas and interpretations for troubleshooting in case they were “stupid ideas” and someone had to borrow my lab book and *gasp* might read it. As a consequence I have pages of data from experiments but I can’t remember why I did them. As of this year, I will have no shame in writing any of my deepest darkest weirdest opinions/ feelings/ instincts/ ideas in my lab book if there is ANY possibility they could be of any use to me in the future.

Any tips on going paperless?

Any nifty ways you use Evernote in your work place?

Over and out.

Walking Backwards, Blindfolded (Crying)

During my last few chaotic weeks of mysterious experimental hiccups, I found it really hard to leave work in the evening with anything on my mind other than failure. To leave a day of work unfulfilled, with the weight of wasted time and energy, is never a great feeling. But, if you’re emotionally intelligent and in control, it’s somewhat possible to talk yourself down from a mountain of negativity. Usually, there are lessons hidden in our mistakes and ‘wasted time’. Usually, a rest and a new day can do wonders to shake those feelings of guilt.

In the instance of research however, we can go through really long periods of (perceived) failure and wasted time. Not only can it take a long time to progress forward, but you tend get very frequent reminders of just how stagnant you/ your work/ your progress is along the way. Each day brings new mysteries to be placed between you and your goals.

For example: you have samples for which you want to collect data for using an experimental method. You might think that Step 1 of this progress would be:

1. Collect data for your samples using an experimental method.

You dive in with all good intentions, before quickly realising that Step 1 is actually:

1. Read everything you can get your hands on about the experimental method.

Then, you think you’re ready. Back to the lab, let’s run the protocol. Ooops. Those results can’t be accurate. Maybe you were wrong…

1. Correct experimental method so as to control for numerable variables.

As you start to tweak the protocols for your specific needs, you realise that maybe you need to make changes to the work flow BEFORE this experimental method can even be performed. For example, the way you collect or store or prepare your samples…

Before you know it, you are weeks into a project and you haven’t even carried out the Step 1 which you thought was the Step 1 back when this whole nightmare began. Far from moving forwards, you’re walking backwards, as you keep illuminating just how much work actually needs to be done before you can reach your original goal. And every day brings more ideas and mysteries that need to be consulted; despite all the work performed, your workload is actually GROWING. Even though you might achieve something in a day: answer a question, shed some light, perform one step of a hundred step protocol; it feels as though you have achieved nothing, or at least nothing worth feeling good about. When even success feels like failure, it’s not a great place to be as far as mental health is concerned.

My supervisor often tells us (her four students) off for comparing ourselves to each other.

I suppose the same goes for comparing our actual successes to our target successes. It’s a waste of time and it’s really an invalid process to go through. Sometimes, those original targets were envisioned many months, many papers, many experiments ago, before the scale of the task at hand was truly understood. While it’s great to have targets for your research, sometimes unanticipated mysteries of science can get in the way of achieving them. The only thing you can do is give these mysteries the space and time and energy they need: and stop beating yourself up about it (it’s really not your fault).