Success is everywhere. At least this is what everybody likes to tell me. Grants are permitted, experiments work, history is made. Still, it’s 2018 and even three years after the predicted launch of hover boards I find myself walking to my work place by foot – how frustrating is that? The reason for this delay in scientific progress is very simple: Success is always also accompanied by failure. But this needn’t be a bad thing – not at all!
It’s true that we all intrinsically thrive to win. Having success feels joyous, light, and invincible. At least this is what I’ve been told… (just kidding here). Compared to that, failure doesn’t sound very sexy. But there’s more to that. In fact, failure is life’s great teacher and it even makes us better persons – more than winning could ever do. By nature, the human brain is programmed to explore new paths and create novel branches. Thus, it serves as storage room for a magnitude of different ideas. With this in mind and also from a mathematical point of view, it is just natural that one of those ideas is going to fail at some point. But failure is never a waste of time. It simply means that there’s room for improvement. Thus, I invite all our readers to take mistakes and failures as some of life’s great challenges. Let’s rebel against failure’s negative connotation and celebrate its tremendous value. Here’s to more mistakes, more ideas, and many new branches! (Whoever feels the sudden urge now to braid a floral wreath or batik a shirt is welcomed to do so.)
Luckily, failure and – even better and probably way more amusing – studying other people’s misfortunes is a precious educational tool. Thus, I asked my friends and colleagues for their funniest and most eye-rolling failures that happened to them in the lab. Now – have fun and learn! Because their pain could be your gain.
“I did a lot of cell culture during my Master thesis. One day, it was quite late in the afternoon when I was just collecting very delicate cells. I had been feeling a little sick that day and suddenly felt the urge to sneeze. There was absolutely no time to put the pipet boy or the cell culture dish down – it simply busted out. Straight against the glass of the fume hood. Before I could actually finish my pipetting and clean up that mess, a Postdoc entered the lab to show a new student around. Both stared at me sitting in front of the glass screen, which nicely presented the full inside of my sinuses. After some seconds of embarrassment, the Postdoc said ‘Well, keep up the good work!’ and, luckily, left the room.”
“I wanted to use an antibody on a Western blot that I had previously only used for immunocytochemistry. I checked the antibody sheet and also the internet for a proper concentration but couldn’t find anything. Thus, I decided to simply go with the same antibody concentration that I used for immunocytochemistry. I prepared the antibody in the desired dilution and – while pipetting – wondered why the antibody was already almost gone. (It was a very expensive antibody by the way.) For immunocytochemistry, I normally prepare around 100 µl of antibody solution. For Western blots, I prepare 10 ml, which explains why the antibody tube was empty afterwards. While incubating my blot, I spoke to my supervisor, joking about stupid companies and why they sell aliquots in such inconvenient volumes. A moment later, I learned that antibodies are used around 1,000 to 10,000 times more diluted on Western blots than for immunocytochemistry – which makes absolute sense once you think about it. I was – of course – super embarrassed, but definitely learned my lesson. Still, the blot looked wonderful and it showed very little non-specific staining, which – considering the high antibody concentration – also showed the great quality of the antibody”
So, what did we learn from this edition of our new lab fails-series?
- Express yourselves, simply let it out!
- Some people might actually have a clue of what they’re doing at work.
If you have more lab fails to share, please don’t hesitate to (anonymously) post them in the comments section below!
To be continued…