Science and research are never easy or straightforward. There are always bumps in the road or hiccups along the research path; a false positive result, no result, a result you didn’t expect, reagents not arriving on time, broken machines, you name it. To continue doing research you need to be adaptable and comfortable giving up control, as my PI says “We go where the science takes us.” Though frustrating at times, this fact of research makes it all the more rewarding when you do finally obtain results you can analyze or can confirm that your experiment worked. Unfortunately for me, COVID-19 threw a massive wrench in my research that I was not expecting; how can I continue to work through a problem when I am not even allowed back in my lab after all? Even if I could return to the lab my school had, rightly so, donated much of our PPE to front line healthcare workers. So far my experiments had not gone as I had hoped and we were in the process of troubleshooting when the pandemic shut everything down. There I was, one month before I was meant to turn in my thesis, and I felt I had no data to report. Without this thesis complete I would have to rescind my acceptance to graduate school because I would not graduate. It was not how I hoped my research would end, after all, I felt I had not accomplished what I set out to do with my project. Additionally, at this time, I felt I had bigger things to worry about than my research; the health of my family and me, how I was going to pay rent/bills now that all my jobs had laid me off, and just the state of the world in general. It was and continues to be an extremely stressful and unparalleled situation, which we all cope with to the best of our ability.
After accepting that this was the reality and my project would not see completion this year, I was reminded and comforted by the fact that science is an extremely collaborative process. We stand on the shoulders of centuries of research and innovation, each scientist adding another piece to the massive puzzle that is understanding life. Not one person can complete it on their own. I know it is difficult to see our contributions when we feel like we added a single grain of sand to the beach, but the beauty of science is in its compounding nature. Someone maybe 2 years from now, maybe 20 years from now will read your work and continue it or have a new idea because of it. You have also gained something valuable in the process; a new skill perhaps, a new connection, a new question, a new purpose. So as I finish up the final edits on my thesis I am reminded that future generations of scientists in my lab will get to see my work, use my protocols, take my research and make it better. I am paying it forward and that makes it all worth it.
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