Things don’t always work. I know I've mentioned this before, but it’s the truth!
This time last year, I was in the middle of trying to get a Western blot to work. A Western blot is a technique with which you can pick out a specific protein in a mixture of proteins, and as it involves various reagents and steps, some of which can be changed, there are quite a few things to tweak. I was changing this and that, trying it this way and that way, but nothing. When I finally got a signal, it was messy – lots of background “noise” – so I had to change the procedure bit by bit, and also change how I prepared my samples. Then the results were not showing any differences, so I then had to prepare samples from different time points. By changing things here and there, I got what I needed from the Western blots in the end. It was a rather tedious task, and took too long, but I made it through to the other side as it were!
Other experiments have been smoother, and others have been difficult like the Western. For example, initial polymerase chain reactions (PCRs) I did was generally fine, no huge problems, but when I started doing them again last autumn, I had contamination issues which proved to be tricky to solve. This was the case for real-time PCRs I did around that time too – took till Jan./Feb. till I got that sorted! So all in all this project was over two years of work, and I was so happy when I finished it all! – however, once you have a look at all the data and look at the story of the project, you’ll most likely have other experiments to do!
What I really want to say is, I think the hardest part of research is staying motivated; it's quite disheartening when you try everything you can think of, only to come out with nothing. It’s easy to lose motivation. So if you are currently in a similar situation, don’t be too disheartened – you’re not alone! I think that’s something important to keep in mind. It can feel like others are doing so much better than you, but please don’t compare yourself to others; probably the worst thing you can do if I'm honest! If you are concerned, talk to your supervisor - I'm sure it won’t be the first time they've encountered this.
How did I stay motivated? Well, I don’t think there is a “one-size-fits-all” approach here unfortunately! But I think the one thing that kept me going, particularly this time last year, is the fact that I wanted to find out the results. I wanted to know if what we thought was actually the case. However, this does not mean that I didn't have days when I was just distraught – I have cried a few times! I kept changing things in the experiments, and hoped that it worked. Essentially, I knew that I was not alone, and I knew that I had people I could talk to about this.
To people considering research/PhD; it is hard work, I won’t deny that. But at the same time it is rewarding, and I don’t regret going down this path at all, despite everything I've mentioned! It is also flexible, in that it doesn't matter when you work, which I like. And, you’ll be adding to existing knowledge, and possibly this could change things for the better – that is a big motivation for me, to think that one day the work I do may benefit people. Find what motivates you, and go for it!