• Question: Have you ever made a big mistake in your job?

    Asked by coblaithmckenna to Hannah, Daniela, Ian, Jono, Mark on 21 Jun 2013. This question was also asked by cerysgreenfield.
    • Photo: Hannah Brotherton

      Hannah Brotherton answered on 21 Jun 2013:

      Hi coblaithmckenna ,
      No not really a big mistake, but I make little mistakes all the time. But that is science! In science we start off not knowing anything, and it is only with experiments and mistakes that we learn what we did wrong and what we did right that gets us to the answer we want.
      I am also a terrible writer, so you should see how many crosses and comments my work has every time it comes back to me. Scientists are far from perfect, I am definitely not perfect and I always make mistakes. 😀 But making mistakes doesn’t make you stupid, as long as you learn from them you are smart.

      But one time in school I did get to experiment with mercury liquid. It is banned now because it causes problems with your health. Well..I once dropped it on the floor and it went everywhere. We had to shut the class down for ages, all because my hands are like jelly. That was pretty dangerous and silly, but it happens sometimes in science. :S

    • Photo: Ian Wilson

      Ian Wilson answered on 21 Jun 2013:

      Hi coblaithmckenna and cerysgreenfield,

      I did make a pretty big mistake once but it all worked out in the end:

      When you’re putting DNA into the sequencing machine to read it, you can put in DNA from more than one species. But the DNA from each species has to have a different marker on it so the machine knows which sample each piece of DNA belongs to.

      I was putting DNA from 4 species into the machine at once and lost the note telling me which marker was which. This meant I wouldn’t know which set of DNA sequences belonged to which species. That could have cost me DNA samples that couldn’t be easily replaced and it costs £500 per attempt at this! Fortunately for me, I found another note with the names of 2 of the species on it and managed to work out what the other 2 were. But the lesson here is always write your notes down somewhere safe lol!

      I was like Hannah in school and had unsteady hands – one Chemistry lesson my group broke every single test tube we were given somehow! Our teacher said our desk looked like a ‘test tube graveyard’ … :-S

    • Photo: Jono Bone

      Jono Bone answered on 22 Jun 2013:

      Hi Cery,

      I make lots of little mistake! Even yesterday I found out the work I’d been doing for the last two days was wrong because a mistake I’d made analyzing data, but these things happen and I’ve learnt from it. It’s one thing making mistakes on your work but when it affects other peoples work is when you feel the worst. I once caused a contamination of some cells that were growing in an incubator, the other people in the lab were not best pleased!

    • Photo: Daniela Plana

      Daniela Plana answered on 22 Jun 2013:

      Hey cerysgreenfield and coblaithmckenna!

      As the other have said, making mistakes is part of science… I have definitely made lots of small mistakes! Sometimes you realise it in time and fix it, others you just have to repeat it all and in a few lucky cases it actually works even better… about a year ago, for example, a student working in our lab made the mistake of adding platinum (Pt) instead of palladium (Pd) to her experiment and it turned out that it made what we were trying to do much better!

      Hope that helps,

    • Photo: Mark Hodson

      Mark Hodson answered on 22 Jun 2013:

      Hi coblaithmckenna,

      like the others, sometimes I make mistakes, it’s the best way to learn. There is a famous misquote “A week in the lab. saves you an hour in the library”. Often you can go into the lab. and do an experiment which seems very sensible and clever at the time. When it goes wrong you realise that if you’d stopped and thought a little bit it would have been obvious that it wasn’t going to work, but life’s like that.

      In my first job after my PhD I had to add some chemicals to make some soils react. I added the chemicals and nothing seemed to happen so, being impatient I threw in lots more of the chemical. The reaction became rather vigorous and it took a while to clean it up!