Striving Towards the Asymptote of Perfect Performance

As human beings, we’re accustomed to the idea that a fixed amount of effort will produce an expected result. If we study diligently for a test, we’ll get a good grade. If we work hard in the gym, we’ll get stronger. I think one of the hardest parts of being a researcher is that this effort to result ratio does not always hold true. One of the most important lessons I’ve learned during this past semester as a member of the CURF community is that research is inherently iterative, so failure is a necessary part of the process. There have been many times where I have spent hours upon days running an experiment just for a small mistake I made somewhere along the way to throw the outcome completely off track. While this was very frustrating at the time, I can now look back on moments like that as the most formative in my growth as a researcher.

As I reflect back on the work I’ve done this semester, I realize that the reason failure and progress are so closely intertwined in research work is because research is the act of blazing a new trail. A direct 1:1 effort to result ratio can only be achieved when the result has been achieved many times before, and the required effort to do so has been established. As researchers, we are foraying into the unknown with little more to guide us than an informed hypothesis, attempting to achieve results that others have not before. That is why it is nearly impossible to move forward without failing. In fact, failure is often the only marker we have that we are on the right track towards making progress.

Gel electrophoresis is a technique used to separate proteins according to their size, and one I employed many times for my project this semester

Over time, I realized that the key to improving as a researcher was to fail quickly, thoroughly understand what I did wrong, adjust accordingly, and start over. With this approach, I gradually made less mistakes. I also grew mentally in ways that extended past the scope of the laboratory. As a results-driven person, it’s easy to see failure as a bad thing, or something to avoid at all costs. However, research has taught me that, while failure is not the desired result, it is an incredibly powerful tool that can help produce a better outcome if properly utilized. A 1:1 effort to result ratio is the definition of perfection in performance, and thus inherently impossible to achieve. However, that perfection is an asymptote that we can strive towards at all times by learning as much as we can from our failures.

Moving forward, I plan to use my findings from my CURF project to further my investigation into the immunological mechanisms underpinning fibroblast activation. I’d like to thank my mentor, Matthew Borrelli, and the members of the Turnquist Lab at the Starzl Transplantation Institute for their support of my project and growth as a researcher throughout this semester.

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