Well, it finally happened.
I failed, for the first time, in my first year of graduate school. And it’s incredible: I thought I would be super prepared for when this happened. I thought it would feel just like when I got a 40% on my chemistry II exam in undergrad, or how I felt the first time I had to put in a maintenance request at my apartment because I couldn’t reach the smoke detector to change the battery.
But I was wrong. This feeling was much worse than both of those feelings.
It was unexpected, too. I didn’t realize I had done anything wrong until it was already too late. I had to own up that I had messed up. Without going into detail, I forgot to do something important on a Friday afternoon. The weekend passed, and I went into my rotation lab today to discover that nothing I had was useful anymore.
The worst part by far was that, since I’m a rotation student, this wasn’t even just my project that failed. It was something I was doing for someone else’s project.
I was supposed to make their life easier, and instead I kind of made a mess and they helped me clean it up.
I did learn something though. This was the first time I felt like I failed in graduate school. I’m well aware it will not be the last time. But, I’m not the first person to fail ever. And that’s pretty good!
Everyone fails, even the person who helped me clean up my mess today (probably). Everyone failed a first time, and everyone’s failed after that. And apparently you fail more than you succeed in graduate school (I guess that’s why they call what we do experiments
, you don’t know if what you’re doing is going to work). So I guess it’s good that I got the first time over with.
It can only get easier from here!
After seeing the way the other people I talked to about my failure today reacted, I felt significantly better. If you never fail, you never learn anything was a common theme to the advice I was given.
And, if you never try things, you never have the chance to fail or succeed at them. So, it’s pretty worth it to try and then fail, when you really think about it.
So after all this, and a very emotionally rollercoaster-y day, my advice to all first year grad students is: get ready to fail. Look forward to failing, if you can. It means you’re learning, it means you’re moving in the right direction. And even if you have to take a few steps back and acknowledge your failure for a minute, only let it be for a minute. After that, keep going, keep trying, and keep failing, and one day you’re absolutely bound to succeed.
Serina Taluja is doctoral student in the Genetics program.