Yesterday initiated my third week of research. When we got here on May 30th, they warned us that we would learn a lot about ourselves during this ten week experience. I wholeheartedly believed that I would learning something during these next few weeks, but I highly doubted I would learn anything significant about myself. Well, the truth is, research teaches you a lot. It teaches you an enormous amount about beautiful, elegant science. It teaches you about investigation of our natural and physical world. But beyond the bench, it shows you life lessons and brings you together with people who are absolutely extraordinary individuals. The truth is, research is humbling. I can take things I experience in the lab and apply them to my life outside of the lab. I want to share some of the applicable (and a few less applicable) lessons I have learned in my short duration here at Vanderbilt.
The first, and most important, mistakes are inevitable and everyone makes them. I had to list this first in consideration that I may lose a few people throughout the rest of the post and this is undoubtedly the most important thing I have learned so far. I am quite confident in my skills and that is required to perform well in a research lab. First of all, there is a lot going on as far as reagents and tubes and very expensive machines and deadly chemicals and such, so confidence in action is quite a standard. But, confidence should never smuggle its way into your mind and cause you to think you are invincible. I make mistakes in the lab. I do silly things that could have easily been prevented. They are not excessive, but they happen sometimes. The best thing is, I’m not the only one that makes mistakes. Everyone does. The most seasoned researcher. The newby (cough* me) and everyone in between. Something I have learned is that although I may not have full control over my decisions when the mistakes do happen (such as pouring a clear solution on top of a filter with a remarkably clear lid – lots of napkins involved), I do have the ability to have full control over both my reactions and emotions in response. Instead of getting upset and doubting my abilities and kicking myself for making an avoidable mistake, I mentally pick myself up, react in a constructive way, and decide to avoid that mistake in the future. I don’t get upset. I don’t worry that I won’t be able to recover from the mistake. I decide that I can recover and will prove myself capable in response (and I have, every time). The fact of life is that we will all make mistakes. We will make choices we regret, say things we wish we wouldn’t have, and maybe make choices that impact our lives for quite a long period of time. The point of fixation here is the response to the mistake, not the mistake itself. Decide to move on. Decide your reaction, will it positively impact your future (as in orchestrating a technique perfectly after you mindlessly forgot to take a clear lid off) or will your reaction negatively affect your future? Everyone makes these mistakes. My research mentor does. My labmates do. Your best friend does. Your parents do. The preacher makes mistakes. The president does. We all are subject to the flaws that are inherent to our beings. I’m thankful that my time at the bench has taught me how to hold myself towards my reactions to mistakes.
A positive attitude will attract a positive attitude. I really enjoy the lab I am in and the people I work with everyday. The primary researchers in the lab are from Ukraine and speak variable levels of English with heavily accented pronunciations. I find this fascinating and love hearing them speak their native language (so much so that I am *attempting* to pick up conversational Russian). Knowing that I was going to be surrounded by individuals from different backgrounds, mindsets, cultures, experiences, education levels, and personalities, I was excited for the novel experience. One active condition I have incorporated into my lab practice is to be a pleasant spirit. I want to be an enjoyable person to work with, even when sometimes I am very tired or mentally overwhelmed. What I have found is that being positive in turn attracts brighter attitudes into my own life. I’m not sure if this is caused by negative attitudes not finding compatibility or maybe it’s a true magnetism between positive attitudes. I can apply this mindset outside of research towards other areas of my life where I have to work closely with other people. For example, my family. My friends. My church. My classes. My hobbies. Adjusting with my internal attitude externalizes a more joyful experience for both me and those around me.
Other less important things I have learned that are equally important to me:
How to have extremely steady hands (pipetting)
How to explain really complex science in very simple words
How to walk really really fast to navigate various parts of the medical center in a short period of time
How to work a real job with real, long hours
How to communicate with people that are different from me
How to actively listen and learn
How to eat lunch really fast so I have time to call my mom for a solid 30 minutes
How to do solution stoichiometry rather quickly
How to have patience, patience, patience
and importantly, that there are some really wonderful, brilliant, and inspiring people out there. I have been blessed to live with a few of those people, be under the direction of two of those lovely people, and be around them in close connection everyday. Life is comprised of these moments with these people learning these things. Our lives are these moments that we realize we are living and we decide to find meaning in every mindless task. In every conversation, in every encounter. Life isn’t about fulfilling it, but rather filling it with an abundance of these small, profound moments. Thank God for this life.