After my old phone failed for no apparent reason, I feared that I’d lost quite a lot of data, and that it would take weeks to get my life back in working order.
Half an hour after I entered the store where I buy phones, I walked out with a new device containing all the same data as my old device.
It hit me then that, since the advent of the Internet, and later cloud computing, the miracle of distributed data has saved humans tens of billions of hours in time that otherwise would have been spent recreating data or otherwise making up for its disappearance.
I’ve been part of the Clinical and Affective Neuroscience Lab for the last 14 months.
In that time, I’ve made lots of mistakes—and most of them weren’t even unique, interesting mistakes like discovering penicillin or inventing the chocolate-chip cookie. Mostly they were “should’ve asked more questions”-type mistakes.
That’s kind of embarrassing, so I’ve embarked upon my typical response to mistakes: writing an 18-page guide (unnecessary warning: 18 pages long) to avoiding them, filled with footnotes and jokes and sub-par MS Word design choices.
I also wrote out a one-page version that gives you the most useful information much faster.
I’d like to update both of these documents at some point, because I think it’s likely that a great deal of time is wasted on science that doesn’t work because newbies have a tough time adjusting to the laboratory environment, and it would be nice if we had a collection of stories from young researchers explaining how to avoid the most avoidable mistakes.
But for now, the guide is extremely specific to my own limited lab experience, and is mostly about filtering through papers rather than conducting physical science. Read it if you’re curious, and stop reading if you stop being curious.
Meanwhile: If you’ve ever done research in any kind of lab, from computer science to chemistry to canine cognition, you should email me and tell me about all the mistakes you made, so I can add them to the next version! (Especially canine cognition. There are no puppies in the current version of the Guide, and there should be at least three.)
You can also tell me about someone else’s mistakes! I will attach no names to anything unless the person who made the mistake wants their name attached for some reason.
Last September, I had the chance to see a show by the Cambridge Footlights, one of the world’s best college sketch groups. The comedy was fresh, fast-paced, and full of surprising postmodern twists, one of which I found particularly affecting.
First, the Footlights took a volunteer from the audience and gave her a pad with a button to push.
“Every second you wait to push that button,” they announced, “you’ll earn a dime.”
One opened a briefcase, then showed us that it was full of money. At least a few hours’ worth. Another held up a large digital timer and turned it on.
00:01… 00:02… 00:03…
Finally, as we waited for the punchline, they held up a sign with the name of the sketch: “The Audience Member’s Dilemma”.