Thursday, November 19, 2009

What the hell did I do to you?!?!

I think I have expressed previously that I am one of those strange people that absolutely loves science. The process, the work, the discoveries... Science is an integral part of my life. I often speak of science in anthropomorphic terms.

And now I'm trying to figure out what the hell I did to her. Why does she hate me now? Why is there so much general suckitude when it comes to research and science these days?

When I started my postdoc, I took on two somewhat related projects. The person who previously worked on one of them (we'll call project A) had been gone for over 6 months. The other project (B) didn't even have preliminary data.

I came to realize as I tried to get project A off the ground, that the supporting data for it was almost nonexistent for the in vitro system. And that data from the in vivo system was notoriously difficult with regard to quantification and reproducibility--this from the people who actually did the work. So I tried a different approach, which kind of worked the first time, worked beautifully the second time (early this summer), utterly failed the third time (a few weeks ago), and provided a negative result in a different cell line (sometime last week).

Project B had to basically be started from scratch. It took a couple of months to get the in vitro model system up and going, thanks to one crucial detail left out of the methods section of one group's papers. After that problem was solved, I had to get the Western blots to work, dealing with trying to get efficient transfer of proteins of interest and the fact that the commercially available antibodies are crap (one band my ass, Santa Cruz). This finally started to show some promising results this summer as well. But I again ran into the problem of reproducibility, trying to figure out whether it's the crap antibodies, differences in experimental conditions, or just something that I screwed up. And then there was writing and revising a protocol for the in vivo work, which I was looking forward to.

Other things I've worked on have either just not worked or have given wonky results that require additional troubleshooting/control experiments. The real-time PCR was screwing up intermittently, which in the end, required setting up every experiment twice to get usable results. Regarding one completely unrelated idea (which I felt was a good idea and a nice reflection/application of my previous training), the guy heading the core facility that I need to use is a butt munch--ignored me once, blew me off the second time, was curt the third time, and is ignoring me again.

So basically the past couple of months have sucked (even if you don't count the shit I've been dealing with outside of science).

Yesterday I'm perusing the RSS feeds for new PubMed entries on topics of research interest. And I find an 'early edition' PNAS paper that is basically describing my project B, with in vitro and in vivo data (using different but closely related model systems). I thought I might actually cry (when it comes to my life, it takes a lot to make cry). I still have to read the paper in detail. I might be able to salvage something of my work, but it definitely steals my thunder.

I realize that all of this is 'part of science'. But that doesn't really make me feel better. I've been having a very tough time this year, scientifically speaking. I keep telling myself that it's important to encounter adversity at this stage of my career, so I can (hopefully) deal with it better in my independent career. That it's "character building". But that doesn't make it any easier.

In recent weeks, I had decided that it was time to start considering alternative projects, for a myriad of reasons. In a way, this most recent development may just be another cutting of ties to current projects to push me into another one. It still doesn't entirely remove that feeling of science kicking me when I'm down.

Well, time to suck it up and get back to it.

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Comrade Physioprof said...

Well, time to suck it up and get back to it.


PhDamned said...

"It still doesn't entirely remove that feeling of science kicking me when I'm down."

I hear ya! This post expressed my exact sentiments as of late.

I feel like as scientists, we deal with so much more failure on a daily basis than non-scientists.

It's a bummer, but we'll get through it right?

biochem belle said...

It's a bummer, but we'll get through it right?

Yes. We will. Doesn't make it suck any less, but I'll be damned if I let this shit keep me down!

tideliar said...

Urgh, sucks. Sorry about the pseudo-scoop. I wasted months on dead-end projects or projects that failed due to irreproducability. Cost me my career to an extent... be careful...

Ink said...

"Well, time to suck it up and get back to it." Oh, wow, this spoke to me. Hugs.

biochem belle said...

tideliar - Thanks for the sympathy and the warning. I was already thinking about an 'escape plan', and the past few weeks have just provided all the more motivation.

Ink - Thanks for the hugs. I may be joining you this 'jolly' holiday season, weeping in my eggnog. Wait, shit. My family doesn't drink! Hmm, it might be time to invest in a hip flask :P

PhysioProf - Thanks... I think.