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Thu, Jul. 24th, 2008, 10:01 pm
Maybe It Was Just A Lesson

I didn’t post about this, because I was too damn upset. But now you get the retroactive de-upsetted version.

See, I’ve been working on this research project for the past two years. I’m right on the verge of publishing, with some very cool results. (Yes, yes, you can have details, but that’s another post.) Then, last week, I caught an error on my data analysis which voided all the results I’d discovered. The paper, it seemed, was junk. Two years of effort went out the window, along with a research direction I really believed in.

First, I panicked. Then, I panicked some more. After that I was able to move on to some more productive approaches. I asked for help, both academically from my mentors and personally from my family and friends. I tried to remember that I have other research projects on the burner, and that not having all my eggs in one basket is actually the upside of my sometimes-scattered research agenda. I took a lot of deep breaths.

Which is not to say it was fun. Despite all the relatively good coping on my part, it was still pretty awful. I know that I’m supposed to be learning to do research, and that means I’m likely to make mistakes as I learn, but really, two years? That’s an awful lot of time to waste.

Then today I discovered that the error I found? Was itself an error. I had transposed two columns in the data while revising the analysis for publication. Everything was okay; my results were actually stronger than I’d originally realized; the paper is absolutely still publishable, if not even more so.

I’m hugely relieved and totally thrilled, of course. But part of me is also saying, “Hey, check that out! Something really important fell apart, and you survived. Even if the error had been for real, you totally would have made it, and that’s good to know.”

Still, universe, could you make the next lesson a little less panic-worthy? I’m really capable of learning from less drastic measures. I swear.