Microscope Games

By Laura Reyes

Laura Reyes looking frustratingly at a microscope
April 11, 2012

I’ll set the scene for you: It’s late afternoon, and I’m in the lab, alone. Well, not exactly alone. It’s me and the microscope. How could I even forget? We’ve been locked in a pretty serious battle for a few hours now. You see, it’s my first time trying to use this thing by myself, and despite my best efforts, I can’t figure out how to focus the light for Kohler illumination (a way to provide even illumination for the sample on the slide). I’m so completely tired of seeing a weird grey partial light when I look into the eyepiece that I just want to quit and go home forever. But wait! There it is! I’ve never seen anything so awesome in my life! After a two hour struggle for supremacy, I have won! I found the light! I do not know at this time, however, that the microscope is on the 40x lens, not the 63x lens that I need to actually do the research. “Ugh, great. Redo at 63x.” I believe that is the exact note I left for myself at the end of that long day. I guess I can take some comfort in the fact that when it comes to challenges like this, I am not alone.

When we read peer-reviewed journal articles, we are reading the end result of an often painstaking process of trial and error, write and rewrite, do and redo. Only rarely do we hear about the troubles that other scientists run into while doing research. I share my story half to let other new scientists know that mistakes will happen, and half to look for more experienced scientists to commiserate with me. Thinking back to the time two weeks ago when I couldn’t set up Kohler illumination and wanted to throw the really-expensive-worth-more-than-my-life microscope out the window, I realized that I learned a valuable lesson that other scientists have undoubtedly learned a million times over (and that I will learn again…and again): science is about perseverance, and things rarely work out the way you expect the first, second, or whatever time around. Sometimes you don’t get the results you want, and that’s fine, because you might come out of that project having found something better, like a hugely transformative discovery, or something simple, like a life lesson.