Lessons About Me: Chapter 1

While I hope to learn a lot about melanoma, cell death pathways, DNA damage repair and all the associated lab techniques throughout the duration of my PhD, I also hope to learn about myself. I’d like to think that I will be able to write a few ‘chapters’ on this topic by the end of this ordeal, so here is a rough draft of one of them.

Chapter 1: I Am A Slow Learner With A Terrible Memory

I’m not sure how much confidence I can claim this with, as I have never really carried out any actual comparisons or experiments on the subject, but anecdotal evidence (don’t judge me, fellow scientists) suggests this is the case. To name a few instances/ cases:

-I have to read a paper at least twice, scribble over it at least once, and make notes on it once or two times (hand written summary flow charts plus typed up summary paragraph) before it will make sense to me. I have to type up notes because my memory is defined by the limitations of “Ctrl+F”.

-I have to carry out a protocol at least twice before I can do it without being terrified that I will make a mistake, and even when I begin to relax (to the extent when I don’t need to remind myself to breathe), I still go by the protocol, and read each instruction multiple times before actually carrying it out. The words ‘discard supernatant’ prompt a required re-reading of the entire protocol from the start, just in case.

-If I don’t write my notes like they are for a stranger, they won’t make any sense to me 12 hrs+ later, because I will have forgotten the entire context.

-Things don’t make sense to me unless I can place them into context. Unfortunately, placing things into context can take a very long time, and I often lack the patience and self-confidence (i.e. “this is taking me too long, I am obviously stupid.”) to make it the full circle. E.g. A friend of mine once offered a crash course in data mining, and gave me a few chapters to read. We came together to discuss the chapters and he went through each mathematical concept/ formula step by step. Although I could understand each chunk of the puzzle, I couldn’t see the significance of any of it until we got to the end. Until that moment, I was convinced that I was just plain incapable of understanding data mining, and that my friend had been wasting his time.

Now, I have been told in the past that some of these posts can come off a bit negative. So, while the title of this particular ‘chapter’ might SOUND a little self-abusive, I’m actually willing to admit that I am pretty proud of how I have learned to cope with these characteristics.  I remember being asked, as a high school TA, whether school gets harder as you get older…and I said something along the lines of, “It does, but you get smarter as you learn how to handle all the new levels and dimensions of detail, and how best to harness your own skills in order to do it.”

(NB: probably was not quite as profound sounding at the time)