Valen Obstan: Myrna Ponti – Online Resources

Valen Obstan: Myrna Ponti – Online Resources

Failed experiment, rejected essay: In science it is quickly labeled as a failure. And talking about it? I do not think so. Colleagues do that in this department. Because failure is useful. This time, Myrna Ponti, a PhD candidate in pathology.

It happened in May last year. I have already been working on my doctoral research into vaccines against helminths for three years. While I was working in the lab, an analyst approached me and asked me about my work on cutting and pasting DNA. She said the DNA fragments (primers) she designed for her were wrong. I promised to take a look at it later.

That night I woke up with a start. Suddenly I realized that I had used the same design strategy for the analyzed DNA samples as I had used in my own research. These served as the basis for various student experiments and projects. All results were negative. Is it possible that the piece of DNA, which is the starting point for the entire experiment, is incorrect? In the middle of the night I jumped out of bed and ran to my laptop to check everything. The analyst was right: two DNA letters were missing, which might explain the negative results.

I felt completely clumsy. This kind of work with DNA was an almost daily occurrence for me as a third-year PhD student. I considered it second nature. That I could still make this mistake without even realizing it! I felt shy.

In the middle of the night I jumped out of bed and ran to my laptop to check everything. The analyst was right

At the same time, tension also arose because I was working on the final experiments for my research and then writing my thesis. The next day I confessed everything to my supervisor. He calmed me down and said that such things happen.

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In the weeks that followed, sleepless nights followed during which I felt anxious about planning to repeat the experience. Ultimately, I functioned most efficiently in those final months by focusing solely on that experience. This time it worked and the tests produced great results. I got a little gray hair, but in the end I was still able to process that data in my thesis.

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