Monday, September 17, 2012

The right amount of thinking before doing

The lab that I did my thesis work in was a lab where the motto was to shoot with hail in order to find something interesting. Not only because the lab did a lot of screening work (like microarrays and other high-throughput screening), but also because we started a lot of different experiments without thinking too much about feasibility (yes, it’s so much easier to see that now than back then…). Looking at my thesis, I think I did about twice as much as there is in my actual thesis. Most of these experiments either prove to be too difficult (lesson: behavioral paradigms that work in mice don’t necessarily work in rats) or just didn’t work (lesson: translating shitty RNA into shitty cDNA will give shitty microarray results). 

So now I realize that I have to do some more thinking before starting to do an experiment (although this comes from a person who just realized that her post-doc project is way too ambitious and has to be downsized a bit in order to have something publishable in a year and a half). Now that I’m starting to think about my next big grant (3 years of money for research back in the home country) I have the good resolution to REALLY think about what I’m going to do and how feasible that is. It feels like I can use my experience from grad school and my post-doc and finally get it right!

But whenever I think too long about an experiment I realize a) how much work it is, including work during inconvenient times like weekends, b) all the pitfalls, c) all the things potential reviewers may say about it, and I barely dare to start an experiment any more. During grad school I felt that it was good to NOT think about an experiment too much, because then I had already started a lengthy, boring or tedious experiment and there was no way back, so I had to finish it.

So I’m still searching for the right amount of thinking before doing an experiment. Maybe it will help if I pretend that it’s not me who is going to do all of the experiments?  


  1. Oh that feeling of seeing an ocean in front of you and you have a little spoon in your hand to use.... You start by making the ocean smaller.

    So, when you approach your questions, try and see if you can find some 'bounderies' (scope?) and limit the question. There will always be "one more experiment will make this so much better" but many times you can get a pretty good idea how big the questions is after a few experiements...

    I'm saying this as a person who is great at looking at my projects as "the third reviewer" but I've realised that it's a good thing; however not when you initially try and get a project off the ground ;)

    1. Thanks for your comment! I agree that it's very helpful to try and cut your experiments and questions into bite-size pieces. But to keep the analogy of the ocean; sometimes for me it's just good to start swimming without realizing that it may take years to cross the ocean. If I would have known before that it would take years I would be too lazy to even start swimming...

    2. I wouldn't call it lazy, just "not as crazy" ;)