As someone who currently works in research, it involves a critical thinking, especially when something does not go as planned. I’m constantly asking the question of “why” to every step I take in my workday. But just because I work in a research lab does not mean that I’m the only one who faces this trial-and-error process: we all do.
For me, it means re-evaluating all my protocols, every last detail written in my lab notebook, and a lot of critical thinking of what may have caused things to go awry. It’s looking at everything super close-up to catch that one tiny detail that may have caused an error. However, it is more than just the details: it’s the big picture.
We can break everything we do down into its components, which may point us in the right direction of solving the problem. But if we are looking to troubleshoot for the future, it’s important to not only observe the details, but look at them in regards to it’s bigger picture.
Take a walk. Take a little escape from your workday. If you hole yourself up and delve immediately into what went wrong, there’s a good chance you are not going to see it. You might, but it’s going to be that little detail. Some fresh air, a cup of coffee (or tea), and just a different view for 5 minutes will give your mind a break so you can go back and troubleshoot with a fresh pair of eyes.
Ask for help. Someone who is not at all involved in your project may be able to give a different perspective on a problem. I tend to think of something in one way when a fellow colleague thinks of the same thing from an entirely different perspective because we are not working directly on the same project. It’s nice to have that different vantage point and someone else to think aloud with about both the details and the whole picture.
Get some paper and a pen. In a world full of technology, our computer, phone, tablet, etc. is our go-to for almost everything. But I find that when I’m faced with a error at work, it’s best to pull out paper and write down whatever comes to mind. That way, it’s written down and I can start to connect the details I’ve written down to formulate troubleshooting in regards to both details and the larger, connected picture.
Take a step back. Like I said earlier, I am detail-orientated. Recently, however, I learned to literally take two steps back and look at whatever I may be working on from that angle. It does give a new view and instigate new thoughts, as silly as it may sound.
Dealing with trial-and-error processes does not have to be dreadful. Find what works for you and go with it.
Colette Biro is a 3rd year Biology and Mathematics major with a minor in Chemistry. She is currently on her first co-op in a biology lab at Northeastern working on transgenerational immunity in social insects. Colette is passionate about running, November Project and being a Husky Ambassador. Feel free to reach out to her at firstname.lastname@example.org.