I Am Bad at Science


This was the conclusion I reached on Friday. What else could explain the fact that my previous experiment, after months of work, did not work, and my current experiment, designed to salvage that last project, is also not working? It had to be me. It is me.  I’m bad at science. There’s no other explanation.

I told this to my PI in his office at 8:30 that morning while we perused my data, my excel spreadsheet stretched to fill his entire monitor. “Well, you know,” he said leaning toward the computer, “I’m not at all convinced there’s a null effect here—”

“I’m bad at the surgeries!” I blurted out before he could finish, hoping to convince him of my ineptitude. “That’s what it is, I guess…I’m just bad at the surgeries.” His eyes narrowed and he tilted his head and told me, “I think you’re taking this too personally.”

And he was right. Of course he was right. But how do we not take these things personally when they feel so personal? How do you separate yourself from the quality of your ideas when the ability of those ideas to produce sexy, significant data is what will propel you forward? How do you “turn it off” when you’re in a career where advancing relies on your ability to quickly and routinely demonstrate that you are “good enough?” Honestly, I don’t know.

I think, like most things in life, it’s about your frame of mind. In the end, it always seems to come down to perspective. When things go wrong you can stew in the failure, or you can rise to the challenge of getting it right. For me, the difference between those two states of mind relies heavily on whether or not I’ve had lunch yet and how many of my coworkers tell me to stop moping.

So maybe I’m not bad at science. Maybe I’m just….a little sensitive. But it was the end of the week, and nothing was working, and I had just filed my taxes – the trifecta – and I just needed to let it out.

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  1. “I think you’re taking this too personally,” made me laugh out loud so hard!!!! I take my data too personally too, because how can you not when you’re the one generating it??? So, so, SO true!

  2. Science requires passion and practice. Textbooks don’t tell you that experiments require delicacy and ‘muscle memory; good hands are developed in the lab, not born. (My experiments also never work if I’m having a bad day already—funny how that happens!).

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