Most graduate students I know have had a string of academic successes in their lives – they maintain good grades and are considered the ‘smart ones’ in the family. In fact, their hard-working nature has made them accustomed to being successful. Graduate school, however, tends to cause an abrupt end to their streak of success – a steep plunge into the abyss of failing scientific experiments. Scientific projects are infamously maligned by far too many reproducible failures. One can argue that it is the nature of scientific research – when you’re pushing the boundaries of the unknown, you are bound to encounter a few hurdles, right? Being a graduate student myself, I often wish I had been forewarned, so I could have equipped myself with the tools required to survive the storm.
For those that have never been inside a research lab, the day-to-day tasks of a scientist may seem foreign. Many people’s only conception of what it is like to be a scientist comes from TV or movies, where data are generated quickly and discoveries are produced in sudden “a-ha” moments, by scientists usually portrayed as strange or extraordinarily intelligent. Although there are many advantages to a career in science, the challenges, drudgery, and detail often involved in multi-year projects is never explained. Continue reading