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A Researcher’s Toolkit: Patience and Perseverance

Think Intelligence is what makes a good Researcher? To me that is only part of the equation. Patience and Perseverance are far better indicators of success in research than intelligence. Let me tell you why. 

I remember first stepping into the lab as a volunteer during my first year of undergraduate studies. In my mind, it was a generic picture of inspiration and awe. I felt like I would be making a huge difference. But yet all I was doing was refilling pipette tips for 6 months. ‚ÄčIt was, to put it lightly, the most boring thing I ever imagined I would do in a lab, and yet, it was an essential task, one that allowed the lab to accomplish many amazing things. ‚ÄčAnd it took me many years to realize this…but by performing those menial tasks that no one notices, it was in a sense, preparing me for the reality of doing research. It was a very important reminder that research is a lot about “the grind” and performing the same tests over and over. Remember it took 80 years of the structure of DNA to be discovered after we knew of its existence. 

Despite what everyone thinks, research is not always glamorous, and to really answer those big questions, you have to grind through the smaller basic ones first – like determining which size pipette tips to use.

People often don’t talk about these behind the scenes work because it would probably take up a thousand pages in a journal, but it is just as valuable. Nor is it ever depicted on TV shows, where you often see a huge array of Erlenmeyers and fancy glassware all coloured and bubbling with promise. Many people don’t understand what goes behind a discovery, which is basically months if not years of repetitive tasks, some of which end in more mystery than clarity.

You have to have extreme patience and perseverance, and unfortunately not many young people with their short attention spans, have that. They all want to jump in, use an instrument, start building something, without accumulating the body of knowledge that can only come with repetition and experience. They want everything “now” without putting in the effort. 

Fast forward 5 years later, I still use pipettes on a daily basis, and I wonder if there will ever be someone who would be willing to refill them. Nope. Still me. So for anyone doing something that seems “pointless” or “boring” such as solving those endless problem sets or writing reports in first year, just know that it is building your mental strength. Just as going to the gym builds your muscles, your brain needs building too. And though it seems hard at first to convince it to do so, you’ll thank yourself later. Trust me. 

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