A Necessary but not Sufficient Lab Lesson

For the past year and a half, I have had a tremendous opportunity to study the dynamics of mitochondrial DNA mutation inheritance and clearing, in a developmental biology lab at UCSB. When I started, my professor explained to me, “as a young scientist, you will have countless failures, however, eventually when you are successful, the result will be worth the effort.” I began with a drug selection condition project comparing two strains of C. elegans’ growth rates and sensitivity to various antibiotics. After ten repeated trials in order to replicate one promising lead, months of confusion, frustration and great uncertainty, the results we found about drug selection in the two strains were inconclusive. We decided to stop the experiment indefinitely – the experiment had failed.

Following that project, I’ve worked on crosses and a genetic engineering project in hopes to someday help piece together answers about mitochondrial DNA inheritance. As a Beckman scholar, I have presented at national conferences, won poster awards and improved my understanding of science – a challenging and stimulating exploration for answers. In my “second home,” I’ve been fortunate to develop meaningful relationships with dedicated postdocs, graduate students and researchers who work in science’s steady pace, to unleash novel ideas about cell fate acquisition, apoptosis and mtDNA transmission. The research experience has been an extremely didactic one that has instilled in me the maturity to carefully think through problems, and persistence to achieve a goal. I’ve failed numerous times – my gels sometimes showed surprising restriction fragment sizes, and my transformations were not effective with certain types of cells, I also experienced times when the tiny C. elegans simply did not behave as I desired. However, through such failures I was challenged to think deeply about creative solutions, strengthen my fluency with the concepts, and research through the dynamic, convoluted network of mtDNA and nematode genetics. I succeeded in my growth as a critical thinker, young scientist and mentally strong student.

So, the most valuable lesson I’ve learned from science is that of failure. And this failure, arguably, is the obscure success of a lab journey because it challenged me to learn and grow. Before I immerse myself into the lifestyle of a physician, I have lived the similar one of a science problem solver, where solutions are often slow, uncertain and not straightforward paths. And I understand that the limitations of medicine are just as frustrating at times as those of basic biological sciences – treatments may fail just like experiments; when a treatment succeeds, another problem may result, just like unanticipated side results in experiments. However, through the research struggles, I have persisted to grow into an even stronger scholar. I can appreciative of the important implication even the smallest nematode lives have towards larger, human life and am curious and ready to learn these implications through studying medicine in the future.