Tuesday, October 24, 2006

I guess that's why they call it research

So as I alluded in my last post, research is once again commencing. Slowly, but surely. One thing I've gotten really good at is jotting down notes to myself of "things to do later", and there was one of these items in particular that was an easy experiment to run and, if successful, would yield very useful results for yet another paper. So that's where I started.

I fell into the trap of envisioning the finished paper, with the results I was so sure I would get forming the centerpiece. If it's possible to salivate over anticipated research results, I was definitely salivating. All I had to do was set up and run the experiments, write the paper, and life would be good.

You can see where this is going, right?

Of course, I got different results. Worse, they weren't even totally different results---they were different enough from what I was expecting, but with some unexpected surprises in there too. In a sense, the experiments didn't prove my theory, but didn't completely disprove it either. These results have me thoroughly and completely baffled. (And yes, I've verified several times over that there was no error in the experiments---these results are definitely the correct ones.)

These moments, of course, are the ones that we scientists hope for---the ones that challenge our assumptions and may lead us to new discoveries. (They might also just lead to dead ends, but let's not dwell on the negative just yet.) And on one level, I'm really, really intrigued by what may come of this. But right now, I'm in that completely uncomfortable stage: the only thing I know is that it didn't work, but I have no idea why or what this data is telling me. And I'm not even sure where to begin looking for the answer.

I could have really used an easy, quick, and painless result at this point, given how much I've struggled with research motivation lately. Finding the patience to deal with this uncertainty now is tough. I just have to keep reminding myself that the potential payoff is high, and that I just have to keep plugging away until the answer becomes obvious to me--because it will, eventually.

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