Frustration in Science - And what Everybody can learn from it

in science •  4 months ago

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Alexas_Fotos on pixabay.com


Ah, science! What could be better than going to a well-stocked laboratory in the morning, spend the day researching world-changing things and go home with the satisfactory feeling of having moved humanity one step closer to perfection?

Probably nothing. That’s why It’s a shame that this kind of science rarely (if ever) happens.

@sco recently held a contest about “My shittiest method” in which I participated to tell you about 7 wasted weeks, just because someone else messed up. But this kind of stories tends to sound like something that might happen once, maybe twice a year. It totally ignores all the little annoyances that happen all day long.

As someone who’s writing their bachelor thesis about a topic from the field of epigenetics (that’s, simply said, the info not stored in genes), most of my time is spent pipetting 1 µl of colorless liquid A into 3 µl colorless liquid B and add 0.5 µl of colorless liquid C.

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While the theory behind it and the flashy articles that are later written for the masses are exciting and entertaining, the work itself takes time and you need to be able to tolerate a certain degree of frustration.

An example:

In the office with me sits a Ph.D. student, who is researching something with liver cancer. What exactly? I have no idea, but she’s been on it for quite a while now. She has a protocol for her experiments, which works perfectly – or rather worked, because, since May 2017, nothing turned out like it was supposed to.

After some testing, one part of the experiment could be fixed, as the change in temperature and humidity that came with summer influenced everything a lot. After adjusting it, the first step worked again. But now it’s March 2018 and she still hasn’t found a way to fix the second step. @suesa

I hope she does before I finish my thesis.

But that is, again, a rather big problem. So what went wrong in the 2.5 weeks of my bachelor research so far?

  • I was genotyping mice, which means we take the (still relatively small) mice, hold them in a way that is supposed to make them stop being able to move, and the punch a small hole in their ear. The tissue is then collected and DNA is extracted from that. It’s minimally invasive and heals up well. An alternative would be cutting the tip of their tail, which is a lot more painful and generally not done, especially not with mice that are older than a few days.
    I had 30 mice to put through that procedure and all was well … until mouse 14 managed to turn around and bite through the glove into my finger. My supervisor just chuckled at my loud curse and asked if my tetanus vaccination is current. It is. Thanks.

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  • I wasted a whole day because I was given old reagents.
    After receiving tissue from the mice to be genotyped, DNA is extracted and then amplified with a PCR. How it works is not that relevant to this post (tell me if you want a post about it tho), it’s just important that this process took about 2 hours. Then, the next day, I had to load it on a gel for a gel electrophoresis (same, if you don’t want to read the Wikipedia article and rather see it in a post of mine with cute pictures … let me know) which took about 1.5 hours. The result was … underwhelming. We couldn’t see shit.
    So I repeated the process (PCR, gel electrophoresis) with slightly different reagents and surprise! Everything worked. I’m not as incompetent as expected. But the day was lost.

  • Not exactly something that went wrong, but a good example for how frustrating research can be: We genotyped a different set of mice to check for a specific gene that had been introduced in the embryonic stage. The first PCR was negative, so we tried again, just in case. And then, a third time, hoping to get any results. But alas, the gene had not been successfully integrated and my supervisor had to go back to step one.
    How much time was lost? Well, a mouse pregnancy takes about 3 weeks, and we tested the mice at the age of 3-4 weeks. That’s a good 1.5 months for nothing.

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And that’s just the beginning of my 19 weeks total! But you know what? I am still looking forward to it.

You need a certain kind of madness to want to work in a research lab, I suppose. In a way, it’s a little bit like Steemit. You can put a lot of work into what you’re doing, waste many hours, and the result is underwhelming, nicely said.

Especially newbies suffer from this, as it’s a lot harder to earn a significant payout without a good network of friends with significant SP. But even if you have that, a lack of response (means: good comments) can be frustrating. The only thing that helps is to keep going.

How important this kind of dedication in the face disappointment is, becomes even clearer if you’re a leading part of a community, be it steemSTEM, Steemcleaners, steemit.chat (as a mod) and others. Most communities bring more work than reward for those who make it a good place to be, and many newbies don’t realize that.

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I salute everyone who’s mad enough to keep giving their best, to never stop pouring energy in this platform, this blockchain, this community, to make it a little bit better each day.

Please give me the contact details of your therapist.


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GIF was created for me by @saywha and @atopy , rest of the signature by @overkillcoin

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Great post. I can understand you for a bit as a software developer; people outside of the industry think it's all unicorns and rainbows, and you're there at 3AM trying to fix annoying bug in production environment. I personally think that people like you should be more presented in media to get the hard truth about being a scientist and becoming more grateful for things you do (and to help in elimination of BS like anti-vaxxers).

I followed you and I look forward to read more posts like this.

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I totally remember 3AM test runs because the devs finally got a piece of code working after days of searching for the bug. I started as a tester, and I couldn't bring myself to go home when a developer was working on a particularly nasty bug because I knew that he or she would probably be sitting there worried that the fix didn't work. I used to have a blanket and pillow in my office so I could take a nap while they coded, then get up and test while they napped. Ahh... the early days of the dotcom era!

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The feeling when everyone else around you leave and you are the only one sitting in the office at 3AM troubleshooting and trying to fix the issue. Add me to the gang, I'm still doing it. Being a software developer in a client facing environment can be equally frustrating until we identify the root cause of the issue and fix it. 😁

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I feel for you; I remember those moments well. I remember one time spending over 24 continuous hours watching the stream of a big-name client to capture the exact moment when it disconnected. We had a buffer overflow somewhere in the system, but couldn't pin down what caused it. The client had a huge roll-out coming, and could not afford to have everything go offline in the middle of the show, so there we sat, staring at the screen, watching the debugger go line by line until we found the issue.

And while it was exhausting, it was still some of the most thrilling moments of my life. We knew we were changing the way people experienced their worlds and creating new ways for artists to express themselves. I wouldn't trade those sleepless hours for anything!

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Yes I strongly agree that those moments are wonderful even though tiring. Especially the happiness clients get when we deliver something. That pays off for all the efforts we put.

I still remember my first demo with a client showing that I can hide a field in a form by just ticking a check box. After seeing that for the first time they started shouting with joy saying woooow. It was over a call and it took more than 5 mins for them to be back to normal. That was my best ever client experience I have ever had in my life. From then on I always wanted to keep them excited by building something exciting for them. Really motivating and satisfyingly. 😅

How important this kind of dedication in the face disappointment is, becomes even clearer if you’re a leading part of a community, be it steemSTEM, Steemcleaners, steemit.chat (as a mod) and others. Most communities bring more work than reward for those who make it a good place to be, and many newbies don’t realize that.

It took me a couple of months to actually realize that steemit is really a community of projects and initiatives, as much as it is an initiative of people.

It is really great!

Most communities bring more work than reward for those who make it a good place to be, and many newbies don’t realize that.

I can hear the silent screams of hours of frustration dealing with pointless questions.
And this, kids, is why you don't DM suesa in Discord to check your posts.

Please give me the contact details of your therapist.

I have given up on therapists years ago, but I do know some nice bars, though...

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I really need to start drinking then

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Alternatively you start to ignore annoying people. Works wonders for me :)

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Someone has to deal with them :P

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I truly admire your perseverance :D

Carrying out research is not a bed of roses. I am currently rounding off my bachelor's degree, so I am speaking from experience. The rigor of research work is always frustrating, especially when you are optimistic and things go south in the end. In a country like mine where resources are not enough, it is even more difficult.

Each stage is always present its own challenge. When you solve one at a stage you feel like a Victor, until you meet the next. Taking some time off often works but then there is the time constraint. I guess the solution then is never to relent and in the it will be all alright.

Good luck with your thesis @suesa and sorry about the mouse bite.

You need a certain kind of madness to want to work in a research lab, I suppose.

Not madness, no no. You need the perfect mix of brains, nerdiness, companionship and of course beer (or an equivalent).

Seriously though: happens to every single student. Maybe that's all the bad luck for you and your master thesis will go smooth! (it won't.) ;-)
Not to mention a PhD, where you're self-dependent and have noone to run to for help... very interestingly though, it is still fun!

I thought it was albino mouse that bit you... no superpowers now.
Hey, where are your eyes, mouth and nose?

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The white mice are the nicest mice in the lab, it's the black and brown ones you got to watch out for. And now that I've written this I notice that it sounds extremely racist. But it's true D:

I do not have a face, why do you think are my pictures always from the back of my head?

(I suck at drawing faces)

Wow @suesa from the few posts that I have read from you (I just started over a month ago) I assumed you were doing graduate work. Good luck on your bachelor's thesis write up (and defence if you have one)!

Yes troubleshooting is a big part of research and constant negative results can really push someone to the point where they drop out of wet lab research. I have seen this many times, but those who persevere always turn out to be excellent scientists. Like you say, it might be just like steemit blogging! lol.
Cheers!
Ian

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You're not the first one to think so :D

Your article is a small sample of all the pains that a researcher undergoes. Today we enjoy the technological advancements in our day to day life. By reading your article, I feel that we must not hesitate to thank the researchers who spend most of their life in labs to add sophistication to our life.

I remember some fragments of this from the days I spent in the lab during my college days. I never really paid attention to what was thought in our lab sessions. Now I realize that was a mistake and I ended up to be a software developer. 😅

I so much understand the frustration, working on my PhD dissertation. It is like the wind comes to blow the sails, and I am sailing where I want to go, and then change in the wind throws me back where I was before. I guess sometimes; we just need to forget the comfort and paddle.

This reminds me of my first year of biochemistry and my my first ever lab in this subject. We all entered the lab full of fiery passion about saving the world from disease only to discover a room in which all the sinks were filled with different seaweeds and were told to take out our lab books and draw them in order to identify them. My heart sank; my passion just bled out. I had no problem in identifying the seaweeds it was just that I cannot draw. What was supposed to be a 4 hour lab turned out to be a 12 hour one for me. Mind you the painstaking patience learnt here was good for the titration experiments which I was to later experience in chemistry. The results were fun but omg were they time consuming and mind numbing methods. I have followed you. Good luck with all that you do. Peace.

How can a post be more recognizable than this one. Research is still fun though :)

There is the quote from Koenigsegg, supercars guy, https://www.koenigsegg.com/ it goes like this:

When you estimate the time for doing some project, multiply it by pi and generously round it on the higher integer.

Most of the time, it's true. Don't worry about the lab delays, even while your experiment is idling, your brain is working, and many times you will get some new, improved idea while waiting for the chemicals, spare parts...

I hear you on the necessary tediousness of doing science. I worked in a drug testing lab for a couple of years and all it took was for one sample to be mixed up or out of order and the whole thing needed to be done again.

Then I spent years performing modeling and simulation - same thing could happen. After weeks of running an experiment, I'd analyze the data to find the inputs were wrong or someone didn't create the right executable with the proper models...well it happens.

But we keep going because what's the other choice? Oh yeah, quit and become a freelance writer. That's what I did!

I'm still a scientist though and always will be.

Let's try to always do our best please, always.

Most communities bring more work than reward for those who make it a good place to be, and many newbies don’t realize that.

Thanks for this.

Indeed. It takes a lot of madness for being able to work a lot for a little reward. Steemit is a great platform for providing a good chance for everyone to be rewarded for their work. Rewarded or not you are right we just have to keep going... Great article @suesa

Actually there is not much idea about science, Even though I am a student of business.Science is the world developer. Without the science,the current world is incomplete. It is good to see research in science, because it is absolutely necessary. Where is your research center?

Wow it was kind of sad seeing that 1.5 months on your bachelor thesis is about to go down the drain but then it’s part of research projects. Things are most likely always gonna go south. You always get that feeling. I’m really envious of the fact that you get to do PCR as here in Nigeria, we rarely get to do that. It’s really frustrating. This post took me back to the time I was working on the effects of metformin on testicular parameters in wistar rats. The lab work were quite stressful. I love this post. Please what’s your major ?

I like your posting frnd i m going to follow u

Lol I totally do agree. Science indeed can be really frustrating at times, more especially when you hit a plateau or a roadblock during a research work or while working on a project. Especially when you're working with a given timeframe. Can be a real pain in the butt. And I'm speaking from personal experience too! Thanks for sharing.

A great post @suesa

I too spend much of the day pouring one colorless liquid into another!!! Cheers. I think the worst mistake I made was pipetting the thymine for making dNTP stock into ethanol of the same volume sitting next to it.

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Did you ever pipette from your PCR reaction into the Taq polymerase? Didn't happen to me but a lab mate.

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I haven't, but that is quite understandable!!

Fight me!