Saturday, August 29, 2009

Failed experiment depression

How depressed should you get when an experiment fails?

I have a tendency to get a bit blue whenever an experiment goes south. This generally takes the form of an immediate re-run and a panic-like reading of lab journals to find any possible error. If it doesn't resolve directly, I usually come up with a plausible explanation and try to confirm it with my colleagues. When I have a decent plan for how to continue I generally feel better, but not happy by any measure. I will often continue my ruminations for days, often until the experiment has finally succeded and sometimes even after it is done, finished and published.

Maybe this is a Good Thing(TM). As recently reported on Slashdot from an article in Scientific American, and an original article in Evolutionary Psychology in 2007, depression may serve to focus attention at the causative incident. From an evolutionary perspective this would potentially allow for the quick resolution of otherwise intractable problems.

So, when my western blot failed (no discernerable bands at al) on friday I immediatly went into a panic. Tried another ECL, tried an extremely sensitive ECL. Re-washed and re-applied the secondary antibody etc. It still didn't work. The problem is probably that the secondary antibody is dead. It was an all new batch, and it was stuck in transit, at room temperature, for almost a week.

Anyway the failed western blot soundly destroyed my Friday and my week end. Not to mention that I can't think about anything else and that I therefore have to write this blog instead of working on my thesis introduction or the other parts of the paper where the western blot will be included once it works.

If Andrews et al is correct this may be a well adapted response. However, I think this demands that one can continue working on the problem until it is solved (damn these week ends). When you have lots of other things to do even the small depression caused by a failed western blot can severly sabotage your schedule.

My vain hope is that now that I know about it I may be able to compensate. At least a little.


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