The Latin phrase experientia docet translates to experience teaches. Upon walking on the SFSU campus for the first time I recall seeing this phrase wherever the SFSU logo was. I had come to find out that it was the university’s motto. Reflecting back, I can see a deeper meaning than I would have ever imagined.
Coming out of my undergraduate experience, I had no clue what I wanted to do. I remember a few months before graduation, this immense feeling of dread taking over my whole body. Not to mention it seemed like everybody else graduating had a plan of some sort. My parents, wo don’t really understand what it was like to be in college assumed that I will have a job lined up and would be well on my way to becoming the millionaire they had imagined I would be, but boy were they in for a surprise.
I had joined a lab my last semester at San Francisco State. This really wasn’t enough time to acclimated to research life let alone finish a research project. I had been assisting former graduate students in the lab in hopes that it would spur some sort of hidden knowledge that I had. In reality I found the work almost dreadful. I did not feel like I was cut out for research. My grades hadn’t been the best leading to this feeling of low self-worth. This was a new feeling for me as I am generally a pretty optimistic person who succeeds when others around me succeed. I kind of feed off of that “osmotic knowledge” that floats around when intellectuals sit down and chat. Regardless of the way I was feeling, I was accepted into the lab that I currently am in as a Masters student candidate. This achievement made my parents and those around me proud as to them it showed what I was worth. However, for me it just added on to this feeling of the unknown.
I started my first year with no preconceived notions about what I should be expecting to get out of my Masters degree. I knew that this time unlike my undergraduate would be much more up to me in regard to how much I wanted to obtain from it. I remember walking into my first class and it feeling almost exactly like it did in undergrad. I almost instantaneously became a little more comfortable in my surroundings. Then as the semester progressed I became more heavily involved in my own research. During this time is when I experienced one of my biggest failures. The experiment that I was trying to conduct did not go the way that I had planned. The data was all over the place, not showing any clear trends. I felt that several weeks’ worth of work had just gone down the drain. This added to the demoralizing factor that I had already been feeling.
“Failure is always an option.”- Adam Savage
After looking back at this situation, I see it now as a good lesson. Science is full of failure and its not by any one thing in particular. Its what makes science interesting, you never know what’s going to happen. This experimental failure led me to change the way that I conducted my experiments in the future. I realized I had tried to do too much too soon. I was not in the groove of research yet and didn’t know how to balance it out with the rest of my life. I am glad to say that I ended that semester with the best grades I had ever received up to that point and finally after working out the kinks in my experiments gained a lot of useful data that helped me form the foundation of my Masters thesis.
Fast-forward a year and a half to present day. I am supervising and teaching the new members of the lab different techniques, applied to numerous PhD programs across the country and have almost all of my data collected for my masters thesis. I never expected to do any of this let alone complete it by the time that I did. I believe that this change from the beginning of my masters experience to present day came about by dropping my beliefs about what it was to be a scientist. You do have to put a lot of work and effort into it but in the end it all adds up. These experiences with failure and meeting a group of people who had my best interests at heart made me that much more thrilled to be gaining my masters degree. This story goes to show that you should never limit what you think your future should be based upon your previous experiences. Once you are able to realize this and not let other notions get in the way, you will be able to excel. I’m still not sure what the future has in store for me but I know with the experiences I gained I am ready more than ever to tackle whatever is in my way.
“Life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forwards.”- Søren Kierkegaard