What I've learned so far during my honours year

What I've learned so far during my honours year
Photo by Louis Reed / Unsplash

As a follow-up to my previous blog post, I have been engaged in my honours research project for the past 4 months and I have encountered many issues, solutions, and insights. As a consequence, I have made adjustments to my previous strategies. These changes can be classified into changes to my habits, my laboratory techniques and finally, my mindset.

What adjustments have I made to my habits and why?

Initially, I intended to have daily reflections to evaluate areas of improvement and create action steps. After trying this out, not only is this unsustainable, it is not necessarily important to aim at the frequency of reflection, but rather focus on the quality of the reflections. Therefore I have shifted my habit to reflect after any major activity (learning a new laboratory technique, giving a presentation, etc.) rather than aiming for an arbitrary frequency.

person in white long sleeve shirt holding green and white labeled can
Photo by CDC / Unsplash

What adjustments have I made to my laboratory techniques and why?

After facing the reality of failed experiments, pipetting errors and the illusion of knowing where equipment is around the lab, I have adjusted my approach to learning new laboratory techniques and executing experiments. Many people emphasise the importance of accepting mistakes and experimental errors, but this is only half the story. It is arguably equally important to reflect on mistakes and actively make adjustments to eliminate the chances of it occurring again. To use my experience as an example, I noticed that if I ate something before going into a lab session (no matter how small), then I was much more unlikely to lose focus and cause pipetting errors. Through experimentation, I also found it disproportionately beneficial to take 10-30 seconds to breathe before engaging in lab procedures. This was particularly effective when many variables needed to be managed simultaneously.

What has changed my mindset and why?

An unanticipated mindset challenge was the discovery of my tendency to create expectations and feel disappointed when those expectations were not met. In particular, having the expectation that this "experiment went well", then collecting the data and feeling disappointed that the experiment did not go well. Interestingly, I found that the solution to this unproductive thinking was to hone in on what I outlined in my previous two paragraphs. At the end of the day, all that I can do is do my best focus work in the lab, and reflect on the experience to find improvements.

Matt Siellet