This is why we do it

Jul 08 2011 Published by under [Education&Careers]

Today was not a good day. I spent the majority of it dealing with bullshit and herding cats to make sure that my NSF proposal gets submitted before I leave this weekend. It was one of those days where you end up getting that feeling in the back of your throat that means you've been on edge all day, when the whack-a-mole game puts up two moles for every one you smack. Some of you will know what I mean and others won't. It doesn't really matter.

But certain days just work out funny, and one lab member was back from a workshop today. I asked them to round up a dataset for me and, based on things they had just learned in the workshop, they took it a bit further. As the day was winding down and the moles were mostly retreating, I had a figure slapped on my desk. On the surface, it was interesting, but it needed context, which I asked for and went about finishing some things up. What came back was another ordinary graph, but together they told a story that has become something familiar to me.

When I first started the lab, I probably navigated a bit recklessly. That's not to say that we were a ship adrift (and I did keep one sure fire project in my back pocket that has netted us funding), but rather that I had an idea that I pursued in the absence of direct evidence. I knew it should be true, but it wasn't a tangible thing that I could wave in the face of doubt. I naively put my ideas out there in proposals and got knocked back for lacking preliminary data. The familiar refrain became "you can't demonstrate that this actually happens" and I heard it a lot. We did a considerable amount of hand waving and got people interested, but we couldn't push it over the edge.

But as I was headed out this evening I had the two datasets in front of me and they fucking fit! There's still plenty to do, but a whole lot of work just came together and it makes sense. What we had predicted would show up is staring us in the face. It's validation of a major thrust of the lab and a giant relief to me that I'm not leading a bunch of folks off a cliff, singing the whole way.

This is big for us. Huge.

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