Finding the needle in a haystack

Research methodology in the sciences can either make you jump up and down like you’ve won the lottery, or sit and cry (you already have enough of a headache, so banging your head on a table isn’t an option). There are those methods that are fail-safe and easy—the ones you don’t mind doing because you know they can’t go wrong. However, there are those methods that can be anything but right. The ones that make you cringe when you see the results, or become flabbergasted because you just don’t know what went wrong.

Sometimes it’s user error: maybe you added too much of this, didn’t add that, grabbed the wrong thing, pushed the incorrect button, broke something (it happens), the list goes on. Other times, it’s instrumentation: maybe it’s not been calibrated in a while or a sensor is malfunctioning. And at other times, it could simply be your sample. Either way, when things don’t go as you expect it, it becomes a game of cat-and-mouse, finding a needle in a haystack, whatever you have it. You have to hunt for what could be the root of this problem, this pure speck of evil that is getting in the way of you and your research.

However, let’s not overlook the beauty that research methodology has provided us. Yes, most of us complain about how tedious some of the work is, how long of an incubation time we have, how many problems we have with instrumentation. But let’s go back in time to before these techniques were discovered, before instruments were created. We would not be able to complete a fraction of all that science (as well as other fields) has offered. We would not be able to run DNA samples on a gel using electrophoresis in one hour, or extract RNA in half a day. We would not be able to perform all our animal studies, or measure blood samples. So while you’re banging your head (figuratively) on your desk, buried in frustration, think about all the good things research methodologies gives us—without it, you’d only be able to complete a fraction of all that you will accomplish during your time here at Rutgers.

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