At this point in the summer, I’m about a month into my research internship, and unfortunately, it hasn’t all been smooth sailing. I feel like I’m learning a lot, and it will definitely come in handy if I decide to pursue a career in research, but this past month has taught me one major thing:
I’m on a serious learning curve.
When I was in grad school, I had the pleasure (and the fortune) of working in a food microbiology lab. In fact, it’s what sparked my interest in food safety, food microbiology, and public health in general. The procedures I was tasked to do at that time are so vastly different from the assays I’m doing now that I’ve realized the entire first half of my research experience has been more of a crash course in molecular biological technique. The bulk of what I’m doing involves reverse transcription real-time quantitative PCR (say that five times fast), and Northern blotting, neither of which I have working familiarity with. Of course, I know how they work principally, and I have the textbook knowledge of what these assays are used for, but I’ve never had to actually do them. It took a while, and I finally got it down packed, but it hasn’t been without some major trial and error… and re-trial. Sometimes accompanied by triumph, but mostly having to go back to the drawing board and start from scratch.
i had a meeting with my principal investigator earlier this week, and we were discussing my latest results and how they were extremely erratic. I know it’s the nature of research to set out to prove one thing and have the data indicate another (or in my case, collectively not make any sense), but it was a little discouraging that the experiment didn’t seem to point me in a direction.
He told me something that I would argue applies to any research being conducted. Everyone conducts research with the hope of discovering something novel, or answering a question, but research is also supposed to drive more questions. That made perfect sense to me; you can’t really answer these types of questions with just one project. My project is a stepping stone to the next series of questions to be answered. That fact is kind of encouraging, at least to me.
So I guess I’m offering a few words of encouragement to the scientists out there who are having to go back to the drawing board. Don’t be discouraged if the project isn’t turning out the way you initially thought. These are the instances that shift your frame of thinking and, potentially, push you in the right direction.