Thursday, February 4, 2010

Varying degrees of suckage....

Things in the lab had not been going well for Dr. Zeek lately.

For the past four months, I have been troubleshooting, working, reworking and trying to optimize something that had previously worked beautifully.  Granted, I had swapped out a teeny-tiny part of the whole for a new and improved part of the whole. The new piece would ultimately be more efficient, cheaper and overall, would make my life much easier. Or, so I was guaranteed by my collaborator.

When the troubles started, I immediately called up Dr. Collaborator and was assured that there were no problems with the piece in his lab whatsoever.  Nope. None. Nadda.  Things were fantastic with the new piece.  Hmmmm....

Wondering why I sucked so bad, I began to systematically change everything and anything that I could think of which would have some effect on the piece of the whole.  Buffers, columns, resins, time, temperatures, the super-secret voodoo dance.  I was ready to start sacrificing bacterial cultures to the molecular biology gods, thinking somehow I had pissed them off.  While the whole was technically working with the new piece, it was working at only 10 % of what I had before.  "Isn't that good enough?" asked Dr. Collaborator.

No, it wasn't.  Not when I knew it was capable of being so much better.  Not when I knew what this thing could do.  Not when I had already tasted the sweat success.  So I kept plodding along, tearing out my hair, dragging myself to the lab and wondering, still, why I sucked so goddamn bad.

That was, until I saw the "internal memo" from a friend.  Seems Dr. Collaborator had mentioned that they (as in my friend and the rest of those she trains in that lab) should switch back to the old piece since...da-da-dum! the new piece wasn't so hot after all.

Not going to lie, I died a little inside when I realized that because I trusted what he was saying, because I put so much stock in what he was saying, because I doubt every single thing that I do before I even begin to question someone else's work, because I am a moron, I lost four months of time and countless hours of sleep, and gained not only several gray hairs from the worry and stress but also renewed that horrible feeling of suckage that I thought I would never feel, or at least feel as strongly, once I left grad school.  But that, in the great grand scheme of things, isn't the worst.  I lost so much confidence in what I was doing, in what I have and can do in this lab that I was seriously questioning all the other data, papers and everything else I had done from day one.  That, to me is the worst.  I already have a case of impostor syndrome, I don't need someone else adding to it by not giving me all the information.

But tonight, looking at the data from the last two days, things are back to normal.  Things are back to where they were four months ago, when I had optimized all this stuff before.  So, all in all I am feeling fantastic.  Its not like I have made any great strides, its not that I have data to submit in a manuscript (because really all of this is just a means to an end), but I am back in business.  And, I am realizing I am not as dumb as I think I am.  That is why I am in a great mood tonight.  And why I poured myself a whiskey and Pepsi (yes, I said Pepsi because folks, Throwback Pepsi made with real sugar is like liquid crack--now if they would only bring Crystal Pepsi back...Oh mylanta), and why I am letting myself sleep in an extra hour tomorrow morning.  Because while I usually do suck, I just don't suck as bad as I thought.  I think.  Maybe.  We'll see.  Sometimes, you have to realize that it may not be you screwing up, that other people are just as likely to fuck up as you are.  I think, for the first time in four months, I will sleep good tonight.  Things may start looking up soon.

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