I had my first big blunder as a post doc a couple of weeks ago.  Very humbling.

The blunder? Forgetting the Ethanol precipitation step in my RNA isolation (with a kit).

The true blunder? Thinking that I’m infallible and perfect now that I have a few more letters after my name.

I’d only been in my new position for a couple of months.  It was my first big experiment, a long infection with multiple time points for growth curves (I really detest 12 hour timepoints).  Along side that, I piggybacked another experiment.  A high multiplicity of infection in primary cells for RNA isolation and analysis.  In my new lab, they use kits to isolate RNA, making it even easier than how I used to do them as a graduate student.  I’ve “grown up” as a researcher on nucleic acid isolation and kits.  Every single benchtop job I’ve ever had prior to grad school was grounded in molecular biology.  I can do kit isolation in my sleep.

Well, I must have been sleeping because I skipped the most important step.  I didn’t even realize it until I was quantitating what turned out to be nothing but RNAse free water.  Those were some interesting absorbance curves.  Having realized my mistake, I now had to face my boss, my relatively new boss, and confess.  In preparation, I came with explanation of the mistake (EtOH), and how to prevent it in the future (printed out protocol instead of flipping through pages of the provided protocol). To his credit, my boss reacted exactly the way he should, disappointed, but moving forward.

For me, it was a lesson learned.  Just because I’m a post doc (or any stage in my career, truly), doesn’t mean that I won’t make mistakes, especially when I think I am above them or not giving a task the required amount of focus.  So, I’ve stepped off my pedestal and am eating humble pie for a few more day until I can repeat the experiment and get beautiful RNA.  But, this time, I will give my RNA the attention it deserves.

5 thoughts on “Blunder”

  1. Thank you for sharing your story, humbling as it may be. It is very important that people learn a little humility and double check their work. It is especially important when mistakes can cost lives or careers.

    • Absolutely! Controls, repetition, triplicate experiments are all necessary to prevent publishing our errors. Double checking our egos is important to prevent fraudulent publishing. However, mistakes are an inherent part of science we should all embrace as part of the process. Everytime we do an experiment, it is built on the successes and failures of previous experiments. What we know now will be replaced in the next decade. Makes for great job security! Thanks for your comment!

  2. The good thing about making mistakes…at least for me i that it makes me extremely paranoid. Chances are, you won’t ever make this mistake again! 🙂

  3. I really enjoyed this article as it pointed out a bunch of interesting points and made me think a little bit differently about the issue. I can’t say that I agree completely, but you have many valid points and appreciate the thought and time you put into this post. Thanks for the great read.
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