The week before last, 10 of my fish died. All were fish that I had done some sort of water change on that week. By the time Monday rolled around, 19 more were dead. Twenty-nine dead fish, 28 remaining. I was devastated, not only for the loss of life (I do actually feel badly when my little fish die), but the enormous amount of resources in terms of time and money I had invested in those fish. I need at least 60-70 fish to complete my project and I was left with 28. How do you recover from something like that? I'm supposed to graduate in May and I can't do that with 28 fish. It will take months to grow up more fish, much less repeating all the steps I'd already completed with the dead fish. Fucking water.
I've been thinking a lot since Friday about the next step. What would my committee say? Would they tell me I've had ample time and even though this was out of my control, why wasn't I farther than this in my project? You see, I've had pretty much every setback in the book on this project. Literally every step has come with great difficulty. When I was on the verge of exploding with progress in September, one critical step began to fail. I won't get into all the details, but somehow my reagents are contaminated and I cannot for the life of me get rid of the contamination. Every day, I try something new, and every day, I fail. I'm getting tired of failing. And having over half of my fish die was just about all I could take. What else could possibly go wrong.
So, I have to decide what to do next. Continue on? What if I don't get rid of the contamination? Is it worth it to spend more time trying to troubleshoot that problem? The worst part is that this technique is very basic-Molecular Biology 101 stuff-and it kills me that this is what is tripping me up. Do I give up my whole project over something that a high school student could do? I've talked to numerous people, followed various lines of advice and while I had some temporary success, the contamination always returns.
The members of my committee whom I've talked to so far have basically said that they will support me in whatever I decide. If I keep going with this project, I'm aiming for a summer graduation. Or do I follow plan B and possibly finish in May? I have a few ideas for alternative projects, but nothing nearly as cool and novel as what I'm doing now. Something that I can't even guarantee I can make work even with more time. I feel like such a failure. I would hate telling people how I had this great project and came so far, but have nothing to show for it. Frankly, this whole process has really killed my love of science. Failing day after day does not boost my confidence in my abilities, nor does it stimulate my curiosity about biological processes.
I made a timeline for my advisor two days ago that assumes everything works perfectly. I wrote a daily plan of attack. Best case scenario, meaning everything works (yeah right) and I come into school seven days/week and work like crazy: I finish labwork at the end of March. And I am already behind on that schedule because of the fucking contamination and because I can't start raising babies until the water problem is resolved. The question is, do I still have the motivation and drive to continue to push forward in spite of my continued failures? Ugh, I don't know. It's a lot to think about.