Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Science is Failure?

Over the course of the spring semester of 20.109, a lot of things have gone wrong.

In no particular order:
1) Solar cell efficiencies were incredibly low
2) TEM images displayed no gold attached to phage
3) Class-wide phylogenetic trees contained trace samples of unknown bacterium
4) Sequencing reaction data in M1 was faulty

I'm sure there were many more small mistakes that occurred during the modules, I know for certain that I made many mistakes along the semester. And at the beginning of the semester, each mistake held a certain weight to me, I felt like I had to know all of the techniques prior to even using them in class, and every mistake was crippling to me. I'm sure that this feeling wasn't unique to just me. (I hope).

Each of the problems, contrary to my initial reaction, was instead an opportunity to learn a bit more about what we were doing. Understanding a process involves knowing where failure can occur, and mistakes (while not encouraged) were never ignored or set aside.

Instead, each mistake became a pathway to a better understanding, similar to this image below.

"I probably should have thought this through" is a phrase that I expect to hear many times in the future, and serves as a cautionary warning for understanding why the mistakes have occurred.

At the end of the day, understanding problems in experiments is just as valued as getting the experiment to work, perhaps even more. Because once you understand how the problem occurred, you learn more about what it takes for the experiment to succeed.

So, I guess, science is failure. Failure after failure, and until why you understand your failure it is okay to keep failing. And from that, the worst thing that you can do in a science field is pretend that mistakes never occur.

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