a little failure and stupidity

You know, I think the most difficult things about graduate school (and becoming a scientist) are a) learning to be stupid, and b) developing a thick skin against failure.

It’s taken me two years, but I think I’m finally getting better at being stupid. I’m still working on the failure bit. My PI once called me “angsty and self-editing” and, while I think I’ve gained more awareness of myself in the last year, his assessment still holds true, and I still tend to take failure very personally. In some ways, that’s a good thing; it galvanizes me to work harder and perform better. In other ways, not so much: I begin to question whether or not I’m cut out for science.

However, after opening up to my PI and others about it, I’ve realized that the feelings of being stupid and of being a waste may never go away. I would wager that the majority of scientists have impostor syndrome. What’s more, failure is just a part of the scientific process. Things don’t work quite often, especially if you shun “safe” science. There are labs in our department that churn out papers with a surprisingly stead regularity, but they do this at the cost of lacking innovation. They perform the same kinds of experiments ad nauseam, almost, it seems, without thinking about what kind of impact they are having on science. If you want to do something really innovative, failure is going to predominate at least the early stages of the work. It’s learning to think of failure in a constructive way that’s difficult, and sometimes hindered by the attitudes of those around you.

There’s an article by Martin A. Schwarz titled “The Importance of Stupidity in Scientific Research“. While it doesn’t really provide any answers, its comforting to know that, as isolated as one sometimes feels, I am definitely not the first baby scientist to wrestle with these issues.

But, I digress. Time to get cracking on my comps proposal.



Serendipitous and Unexpected Results


“Neural Correlates of Interspecies Perspective Taking in the Post-Mortem Atlantic Salmon: An Argument For Proper Multiple Comparisons Correction”.

Please. Let that title sink in for a minute.

Even as a graduate student in my first semester, I’ve already read a metric butt-ton of articles (yes, that’s a scientific unit). Most of these  have been for class; some have been to beef up my knowledge for a lab rotation; and still others have been read purely out of curiosity.

Reading scientific papers is not for the faint of heart. Even for someone keenly interested in their subject, poor writing and dry content can put the reader right to sleep. That being said, it’s refreshing to find a paper that is, for a wonder, entertaining– such as that by Bennett et al. 2012. What could have been a dry treatise on the importance of using proper statistical and filtering techniques for functional imaging is instead an experiment to end all imaging experiments: running a dead fish through an fMRI. But what does a dead fish have to do with statistics?

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