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When your experiments aren't working & what the heck am I doing here

Leslie Kay lmk2 at garnet.berkeley.edu
Tue Jul 26 19:01:29 EST 1994

Just to add my experience to this discussion: I've been fortunate
to have an advisor who respects me and my work very highly.  He
has been my biggest fan professionally.  Now I am nearing the
end of my PhD (I'll finish in May if all goes well), and I realize
that without being overt about it he taught me very well how to
be a scientist.  It helps that we have similar philosophies about
the work and about life.  I have gone though many ups and downs
in reference to experiments working and not working, and also with
motivation.  He gave me some good advice about motivation problems,
to take a walk several times during the day (even a short one) and
"remember what you're doing it for."  Another faculty member gave
me some very good advice/insight.  I was feeling discouraged about
my experiments not working, and he said that that was what graduate
school was about, you fail until it works and then you are done.
That's what most projects are about too, only as a grad student
you are also learning lots of new things, so you spend a lot more
time failing.  That insight turned me around and I was able to
go back into the lab the next day and do another surgery, and it
worked!  So, realize that a failure is just an experiment not 
working and means very little about your own abilities or intellect.
Especially in electrophysiology with awake, behaving animals, most
of the experiments fail for the first few years.  I don't know about
other fields.

Hope this helps some of you.
Leslie Kay
lmk2 at garnet.berkeley.edu

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