The Best Way to Learn is to F%$K S#&T Up.

07Nov09

Currently I am conducting a research project as part of my senior year curriculum to satisfy the graduation requirements for my pharmaceutical sciences program. As a student, I am allowed to choose a professor to work with based on their area of research. Some professors give the students lots of flexibility and independence on their projects while others are much more guided. Frankly, I like flexibility and dislike rigidity. Sometimes it’s unavoidable but I try to avoid it when I can, so naturally, I chose a professor that’s relaxed and easy-going.

My research relies almost exclusively on the operation of a UPLC/MS instrument. It’s pretty significant for a variety of reasons. Let’s start with the fact that the instrument itself cost half a million dollars. Secondly, it seems that no one in our department knows how to really operate the damn thing. My professor knows a few minor points but he seems to be learning about it as I am. In fact, it seems I have taught him most of what he knows about it! I just get to go off into my little corner of the lab and play with the instrument. No one’s breathing down my neck or questioning my actions because they don’t know anymore about it than I do. I’ll have to take advantage of that type of opportunity while I can. There’s no way in hell that when I go into industry they’ll be letting me just push buttons out of curiosity!

When I started this project I got an intro crash course by the company training rep. Since then I’ve pretty much just been pushing buttons to see what they do. Very interesting considering I’ve never operated an HPLC nor an MS. Let’s just say it’s been quite the learning experience. It seems the instrument has never been fully functional since I’ve started. Once I get one issue with it resolved, another one seems to arise.  Most of the learning process, troubleshooting, critical thinking has come from the damn thing not functioning properly. It’s kind of fun to know that I know more about the instrument than anyone else in the lab. Not that I’m an expert (by far!) but it motivates me to learn more.

This semester has been merely trying to figure out the operation and method development part. Next semester I expect to have it fully functioning and use it to characterize and quantify proteins. That should be really fun. I’ll keep my fingers crossed that all goes well!

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2 Responses to “The Best Way to Learn is to F%$K S#&T Up.”

  1. So, I have an awesome advisor who lets me do stuff like that too. It’s awesome.

    I call it trial-and-error, he calls it “lightning empiricism.” Lighting empiricism looks better in a paper when you are explaining your methods, so I generally go with that. 🙂

    Yay for try-it-and-see!


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