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Blog post by Meghan Edwards

Failure is an Option:

Not many people sit down in a lab and expect to hear that they can make mistakes, no problem. Or that, yep, the experiment was a bust. Better yet, lets google the protocol and see what other scientists are doing out there. Well that is just what I got in FRS 002 Nectar Lab and let me tell you, it was the most refreshing class I have taken in my three years at UC Davis.

I entered this lab with only the basic lab knowledge provided by introductory chemistry and biology and a broad understanding of what a microbe was. In other words, not much. I had heard of all of the lab techniques but never done any of them. I really took the class in hopes that I would gain some useful skills to add to my resume. As a fourth year, I felt like I lacked hands-on experience. I had never taken a freshman seminar before and really didn’t know what to expect, but I thought it sounded like a great way to get experience without too much stress. Was I initially super fond of nectar and microbes? No. But I thought, who cares it will still be useful. I never would have guessed how great the class would be and how intrigued by microbes I would become.

From day one I knew this was going to be a great class. All of the teaching assistants and professors seemed super enthusiastic about their work and better yet they wanted us to be just as excited. I was super intimidated by the prospect of being part of an actual experiment that would be used for a study but was instantly relieved to hear the TAs tell us flat out that it is okay to make mistakes.

As a matter of fact, I think the mistakes/ failures in this class were the best part of the class. Leading up to colony PCR, I had googled numerous protocols hoping to help out teacher determine the best one that would work for our lab and had high hopes that it was going to work. Then it didn’t. I was a little shocked. Here we are in a real working lab and our experiment didn’t work. Little did I know that this was the learning moment. It doesn’t always work! We got the chance to run the experiment again and I saw the difference between the first and second run. During the second run I was way less nervous. I had an idea in my mind as to what I was doing and how it should look. I needed to ask fewer questions and finished faster. I wasn’t the only one who seemed to have a better second run. My whole table seemed to have a more enjoyable time the second run, with more discussion and less hesitation. Did the second run work, no. But it turns out that that was just bad luck with bad reagents and was out of our control. Or maybe it was the universe really trying to teach us colony PCR. Who really knows? But I can tell you that you learn more when you fail than when you succeed. This lab taught me what real science looks like. It isn’t perfect, it isn’t always clear, sometimes it gets a little messy, and sometimes it just falls to luck.

David Coil

David Coil is a Project Scientist in the lab of Jonathan Eisen at UC Davis. David works at the intersection between research, education, and outreach in the areas of the microbiology of the built environment, microbial ecology, and bacterial genomics. Twitter

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