When plans change

One lesson in research: you can never expect things to go according to plan.








Although last week was in many ways really exciting for me and my lab group, and involved lots of new instruments and new opportunities, we also hit a number of road bumps. The freeze dryer, an essential step in preparing sediment samples for extraction, spent three days forgetting how to vacuum down, and a number of sample vials were broken in the process. The gas chromatograph, the workhorse of lipid analysis, ran a leak overnight and needed two days’ worth of troubleshooting. An unexpected power fail in the building luckily didn’t damage our most important instruments, which have backup power, but it interrupted overnight tests and fried a computer. Every road bump cost me the ability to continue with my primary work that day.

The photos that I posted from this week capture the excitement of scientific research, of using new tools and finding surprises and making progress. It’s easiest to gloss over the tough parts, the times when you do the same thing over and over with no success or spend precious hours babysitting a broken machine. For one thing, this stuff is not nearly as fun to talk about. But road bumps and long days are the reality of research in most settings: there will be progress and excitement, but they’ll always be accompanied by troubleshooting or frustration or mind-numbing lab methods.

It can be hard to keep perspective in the moment, but I do try to remind myself to take the bad with the good. Was this week difficult? Yes, but given the circumstances, I was lucky to make as much progress as I did. Did things go according to plan? No, but I am lucky to have two wonderful, bright, inspiring advisors and a number of fantastic coworkers who are here to help. Broken vials are all part of the process.