Less than a week ago, the project that I had poured two years of hard work into, was scrapped. While the plan for this project (up until this quarter) was to collect enough data on a fly behavior to find a correlation in the genome and publish it…science does not always work out the way you hope it will. The phenotype, egg-laying location, which was originally statistically robust, dissolved away once we tested the behavior in fly lines with specific recombination. This happened near the end of the first year, so I started the project over again using a new method that promised to lower the background noise in our analysis. I spent months rebuilding lines and several more months testing the behavior of these lines. Last week, I finally had enough data again to check for preliminary results by doing some analysis and the news was anything but good. Nothing looked promising or publishable – another year of work down the drain. At this point, the project had taken so much time and money that it was not worth continuing.
Hearing this news, while devastating, helped me put some things into perspective. Biology is messy, and behavior is REALLY messy. By no fault of my own (that I know of) my project failed. But, this one project has nothing to do with the reasons that I love biology or want to be a biologist – science is so much more than the project you’re working on. My love for evolutionary biology comes from the people and the ideas and the process. If it were to come from a focused drive to find an “answer”, I would have quit a long time ago.
I joined this lab because I loved evolution, several courses on the subject had inspired me with interesting ideas and perspectives and I wanted to start exploring some of these myself. It was upon joining the lab that I also started attending the weekly evolution seminar – a journal club for all the evolutionary biologists on campus to come together and discuss new findings, present their own research and dig into interesting literature together. Despite being a mere second year I was encouraged to join in on the conversation and ask questions. I immediately felt, and still feel at home in that community.
I continued to attend the seminar even after I could no longer receive units for it. I was learning new things every week and getting closer to the amazing individuals that comprise the evolution labs on campus. This weekly seminar gave me so many opportunities to grow as a researcher. I was able to present in a constructive, fun environment and even joined another lab at a SICB conference when no one from mine was attending. I started to learn each person’s expertise and was able to go to them for help when I was having trouble with my own research, or needed advice on graduate schools and interviews.
I can’t emphasize how important the evolutionary biology community here, as well as my community in the College of Creative Studies, was to me throughout my four years here. Without the camaraderie and advice I received, the obstacles of being a student researcher and making my way to a PhD program would have felt much too great to overcome. It’s because of this community that I was exposed to so many sides of a fascinating topic and I would have likely never found my true passion for the study of evolutionary development without it.
One of the most important aspects of science is the community and shared ideas it creates. Everyone I’ve met here is working towards the same goal of discovery and is always happy to help each other along the way.
Now, as my time as an undergrad has nearly drawn to a close, I’ve started to reflect heavily on these experiences. While I applied, and have been accepted to several PhD programs, I’m now considering pursuing a career outside of academia and science. Even in these moments of uncertainty, my mentors have helped me navigate my life both within and outside the realm of research. Regardless of my future path, the community I spent my time in as an undergrad has helped me grow in innumerable ways and I will always be grateful for these people and experiences.