The Why of the How

Rising up out of the chaos that is my life currently to quote Namnezia again, talking about how important it is to not forget about (and occasionally remind ourselves of) the WHY of the HOW:

This is also true in the lab. Whenever one of my lab peeps comes in complaining that they can’t get something to work, I always tell them to check the original recipe, be it a methods section in a paper, a protocol book or a lab manual. Lab protocols tend to drift over time such that we teak thing here and there to make things work more optimally. But occasionally these tweaks add up over time, such that what we are doing is very different from the original protocol. It also turns out that many of these tweaks are completely unnecessary and just make the whole procedure way more complicated. I mean if you switch a specific incubation time and things suddenly work, are you really going to go back to the old way even if you are not sure that the incubation time had anything to do with your experiment suddenly working? No fucking way. Many of these experimental tweaks and turns basically border on what I call “lab voodoo”, and we just do them because at some point they seemed to help . But by the end, the protocol is so twisted and disfigured that if it stops working it is impossible to troubleshoot. Which is why it helps to go back to the beginning and try again. It also helps to read some old papers. Recently I re-read some not exactly-classic papers, but papers that set the experimental framework in my field and the whole impetus for my research. And there was so much in there that I can’t believe I missed the first time. There are so many unexplored leads, and hidden experimental gems, that after re-reading them I came out with a buttload of new ideas I wanted to try.

Can you see why I love this dude's blog so much?

3 thoughts on “The Why of the How

  1. Yeah, we have been in the midst of buying a historic house in the town where I work (we'd been living ~84 miles away and I was commuting both ways each day with the baby in the car...) moving there partially and camping out as a single mom while my husband stays in the other house (his job is about 70 miles in the opposite direction). This has largely happened while all the usual assistant prof responsibilities (submitting grants, trying to finish up a paper, advising students, OPs and committee meetings, etc.) have been maintained (except for last week when I broke down and just focused on getting a bunch of fix-up work started on the house).

    It's all doable just fine, but it does mean I don't have any extra minutes for blogging. Even now, I should really be finishing the last coat of paint on my bedroom walls and not sitting here at the computer watching TV...

  2. And I thought driving 19 miles twice a day with the kids in the car was tough. When we moved into Boston and it became 4 miles, it was a definite life changer. But what will your husband do? What a tough situation!

    Hang in there!

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