How to define Phailure and Success

By Daniel Woods

As the end of the semester approaches, the phage hunters (some new and some old) are weeks into tackling the special projects that we proposed as the annotation of the genome came to a conclusion.  Some went the route of bioinformatics and decided to use a more technical and technology-based approach, while others, including myself, went back into the lab to perform experiments.  Now, these experiments ranged from testing out other phages for possible family relation to the A1 subcluster to finding more about Manatee, the phage we submitted, as well as the phages we isolated on our own.  As for myself, I tried to look into whether or not density seemed to affect certain plaque size and morphology of my isolated phage, Antiswag.  Perhaps there might be a subcluster of phages that contain a gene that controls such characteristics under specified conditions. And after weeks of tests and wacky results, I seem to have not been able to reach any sort of conclusion.  In other words, I have failed.

In other subjects, such as Mathematics, you are presented with a problem, and there is a methodical way to approach the correct answer and you are either right or wrong.  When you are wrong, you rework what you have done and the process repeats until the mistakes are fixed.  In relation to the lab, this seems to be the case as well.  There’s a methodical procedure in order to produce results that either support or go against your hypothesis.  But what happens when results from one week support while another week deny?  Have I failed in the methods and procedures such as in math?

Therein lies the beauty of the laboratory.  In reality, you cannot fail a laboratory or an experiment.  Granted, processes and procedures can be fine tuned to reduce the impact of the exterior environment, but after much preparation and training, this is hardly a factor.  Rather, the lab shows that evaluation of the results cannot definitively say whether or not you were successful or a failure.  Granted, results that support the hypothesis help indicate whether or not the proposed idea was true, but results that don’t support don’t necessarily negate the idea.  Rather, it begs a rephrasing or rethinking of the proposed idea, in order to adapt to the circumstances that are present.  Science does not fail the human thought, rather, it acts as a professor, leading the train of thought along the right tracks, hopefully arriving at the definitive answer.

After a full year of phage lab, I feel as if this is what I have to take away from it (besides the lab experience and knowledge).  There is no such thing as failure and it exists only if you view the process of rethinking that way.  If rethinking a problem is failure, then good luck in mathematics! But in reality, looking at results and conclusions no longer indicates that you “failed”, it just shows that you have to adapt to whatever your looking at has thrown at you.

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