• Question: Do you guys ever feel like their is one experiment that you knew was just hopeless for the result that you wanted?

    Asked by Chris to Jonathan, Kellie, Kevin, Melissa, Stephanie on 26 Apr 2016.
    • Photo: Jonathan Jackson

      Jonathan Jackson answered on 26 Apr 2016:

      I’m not sure how anyone else is going to answer this question, but for me it’s always important to remember that no one experiment *ever* completely answers the question you have. You might hope for a particular result, or answer to a question, but oftentimes what you find out just raises more questions! For example, in my work, I conduct experiments to see if I can figure out how the brain thinks about stuff. Even if I get the results I’m looking for, I know I’m just going to have a dozen more questions about other things that might be worth studying.

      But not every experiment is going to be useful. I have done many studies where I hoped to show something brand new and exciting, only to find that I set everything up the wrong way, or no one was doing what I wanted them to, or maybe the way I thought about my experiment didn’t make a lot of sense upon further thought.

      Science is about curiosity and careful thinking. Sometimes mistakes can lead to exciting discoveries (especially when you don’t expect them!), but other times they’re just mistakes and we have to learn to be a bit more careful next time. Those moments are always sad and frustrating, but one thing that good scientists do is carefully understand their experiments and results, whatever they happen to be, and move on to the next question.

    • Photo: Kevin Baker

      Kevin Baker answered on 26 Apr 2016:

      When I plan experiments, we are very sure that we are taking the right steps. While planning, I talk to a lot of people in my lab about my design. If they have any issues with it, I look at my design again. This is so I do not get half way into my experiment and find out I am doing something wrong. There have been times when I thought, “why am I doing this? There are so many better ways to do this!” So I have felt this feeling before, but it is good to remember that you can always do your experiment again.

    • Photo: Stephanie Moon

      Stephanie Moon answered on 26 Apr 2016:

      When you’re trying to think of experiments to do to test a hypothesis, there are a lot of ideas that end up not working out. Sometimes you can think through an experiment and realize before you even start doing it in the lab that it’s not going to give you the right information to move forward with your hypothesis. But sometimes there are so many challenges with doing an experiment that you realize after trying it a few times that it’s just not going to work out- either there are too many things that interfere with the data (so you can’t say for sure if the results you see are because they support a certain hypothesis, or if it’s because of something completely different that you didn’t know about before). It’s always a good idea to test a hypothesis in multiple ways, especially because you want to make sure that what you’re observing is really there!

    • Photo: Melissa Wilson Sayres

      Melissa Wilson Sayres answered on 26 Apr 2016:

      There should be a lot of thought that goes in to designing an experiment to test a hypothesis. Part of that thought is to consider the alternative hypotheses that may be better to test, and the range of possible outcomes. I would not start an experiment that I knew was not well-designed to address the specific hypothesis.

    • Photo: Kellie Jaremko

      Kellie Jaremko answered on 27 Apr 2016:

      I agree with all the other scientists- planning your experiments and studies well means that you are only doing things that you think will lead to some part of an answer. As Jonathan said no single experiment gives you all the answers to a question. I admit that sometimes there are difficult experiments or parts of a study that don’t seem to work and that can be hard. A negative answer or result still gives you information and nothing is hopeless.