Life thoughts

experiments

There’s this fleeting moment during an experiment, almost every time, where I stop and think I have completely messed up. I spent the past three days preparing to run an RT-qPCR (real time quantitative polymerase chain reaction if you’re interested) to see if our gene of interest is overexpressed in certain heart tissue. After 15 hours of work, today I put my eyes down, made sure I was ready to go, and began working with the tiniest volumes to prepare the final reaction. I manually pipetted into 96 wells twice (so 192 times). I was so focused on not messing up (this was my first time doing qPCR solo and they gave me the big experiment. . .) but that malevolent little thought rushed in once again. About halfway through the entire process I thought, oh no, you’ve messed up. What was the last sample used? Did you put the right primer in? Is the volume correct? Literally, every worst-case scenario entered my mind. In these often-had moments, I question my process, my accuracy, my proactive thinking, even my basic skills. No matter how confident I am, in these moments I lose all confidence and question things I know to be true. This happened to me today, and I’ve been experiencing this long enough to have mechanisms to mess-up-proof my experiments (like labeling everything, being very intentional in where samples are placed, and using my pipette box as a roadmap for where I’ve already been on the plate). Importantly, I catch my mind while immersed in this doubt and assure myself that I haven’t made a mistake, that I have been very cautious and attentive, and that I am doing just fine. If you’ve read this far despite nonsensical lab stuff, thank you. I realized that this self-initiated doubt is not confined to research but is universal in all of life.

How often am I moving right along, doing just fine, everything is working out, and my mind says to me, Oh no. You have really messed up. You’ve made a big mistake. Everything you’re doing is wrong. I’ll admit, very often. We have experiences, trials and errors, that guide us in life. We make decisions based on knowledge and feelings that we have previously experienced (either in hopes to feel or not feel that way in the future). For the most part, I’d say we are not blindly navigating through life without any guidance (like that cherished from friends, mentors, learning from past mistakes, intentional thinking, etc.). We live like skilled researchers, already filled with the knowledge of how to do our task or with the capability to obtain what we need to know to carry on. It is not that we are taking the wrong path or doing the wrong thing. It is that our minds are telling us that we are. Self-initiated doubt is a destroyer. In the middle of my experiments, it causes me to question what I know is right. In the middle of my life, it causes me to question my actions and pursuits. I so often am living my life, completely satisfied and happy, when that deceptive voice urges me to question everything. Unlike my research skills, I’m not as disciplined to channel my confidence and squander the doubts. This parallel became so clear to me today – doubt creeps in everywhere and to everyone (well, to me at least). Instead of worrying about everything I’ve done wrong or may do wrong, I hope to instead take a note from my laboratory self and remember that I’m capable, skillful, and perfectly fine carrying on in the way that makes me happy. While this example is very specific to my experience, I feel like anyone can think of a place they are skillful (on the court or field, in a job, as a mom or dad, in any hobby) where they don’t let doubt affect their ability to do that skill well. My hope is to live my life a little more like that so the nagging worry and unnecessary questioning don’t invade my happiness and peace of my mind. I guess I hope to live like a crazy scientist that trusts her hand, her skills, and her process – because we all deserve the peace of mind that comes from confidence and self-assurance.

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research

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.

 

 

 

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