A year in research, what research taught me about life (1)

Its been a year since I last enrolled into the honours year programme, and boy what an amazing experience it has been for me. A one year intensive research programme coupled with advanced classes in chemistry, what more could I ask for? I chose to do the honours programme because I wanted to challenge myself, and because God asked me to remain in melbourne for another year.

Reflecting back on the past year, there are many parallels that I can draw between research and life in general.

1. You never know until you try:

Research is about experimentation. Experimentation is about trying new things. Just as Edison tried a 1000 times before inventing the light bulb, a researchers’ job is basically a daily routine of trial and error. Continually experimenting and checking the data. Science has progressed tremendously over the past few decades and we have very comprehensive theories to guide us in our work. However, once you begin wading into the unknown, once you begin trying out new things, theories sometimes begin to fall apart. It is commonplace to see researchers sitting down in front of their computers, scratching their heads at the data and exclaiming “Whats going on”. My favourite meme about labs is ” Nothing seems to work. And when it works, nobody seems to know why “. The blockbuster chemotherapeutic cisplatin worked, but no one seems to know how it really works or why it really works. It just does. To quote Deng Xiaoping ” Dosen’t matter if the cat is black or white, as long as it catches mice “. In a sense that is what research is about. Finding something that works. All the theory in the world can help and guide you, but you never know until you really try.

Physicists have already proceeded beyond the newtonian model of science to quantum mechanics, a wacky interesting world where you can never know something for sure. For example, atomic orbitals are used to describe an atom, but we never really know where an electron is at any given point in time. We just know the probability. In the same way, some a systemic approach to understanding PK and PD might be where answers lie.

In a sense, life is like that. we can read all the self help and philosophy books we want but at the end of the day, we dont know until we really try. When theory breaks down in the face of reality, and you are left with countless unknowns, the only thing you can do is to try, try, and try, and to see if it will eventually work. Of course in life, sometimes you have to know when to give up as well and have a sense of when things should take a u-turn. Sometimes the right way to go is backwards.

I guess the point I really want to make is that right now, many of my peers and myself included, we worry about finding the “right” job and fulfilling our dreams. But what exactly is the right job? Is your dream really your dream? You only know if you try out the job or try working hard at something you really love. Its easy to think and speculate but really, taking action and diving into something is what counts. To find your place in this world, you need to take action. Sometimes we might not end up where we want to be, but that is life. We make the best of what we have. The sun still shines, the flowers still blossom. There are thunderstorms, but there are beautiful days as well.

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