Collecting data: if you have never missed a flight, you’re getting to the airport too early

I’ve missed a few flights. And I am sure that I still waste too much time at the airport. I try to work there, but mostly I appreciate a small bit of downtime. Being able to take downtime in the midst of chaos is a talent? skill? ability? that I have worked hard to, if not master, at least achieve threshold ability.

The equivalent for data is the project that didn’t work. The data that is still on the backup hard disk (if you’re young, on paper and notebooks if you’re not).  I used to feel mildly guilty about ignoring it in favor of the more exciting stuff. I used to worry much more about that stuff than I do today.

I’ve come to a better place (an analog, not homologue to downtime at the airport). I feel that as long as I am productive, as  long as my peeps are doing well and they are productive, as long as the  distress and discomfort to the animals is as low as I can get it, and they are not wasted, its OK not to use Every Bit Of Data.

Maybe when you are a first year asst prof you don’t have data you won’t have used or not want to use (but its not unreasonable that stuff from your thesis might not see the light of day).

But if you use all the data you collect, well, you are making every plane. You’ve not taken the risks you need to take. Need? yes. You need to push and grow intellectually. There are lots of different paths to get there, but risk-free ones are ultimately as rewarding, challenging (in a good way) and leading to success.

What one can learn from failed experiments is multifaceted. This includes: what doesn’t work, ways it might work, and an array of micro, low level, proximal solutions. Or solutions to proximal, low level and micro problems. It also includes ideas for New Things. Something lots of jr. faculty (but not Maria) worry about: where will I get my new ideas? From your mistakes. From the data you can’t publish. From dreams late at night (but also see this).

The balance of risk and surety is hard. But total risk-avoidance and making every plane is not a good thing.






3 thoughts on “Collecting data: if you have never missed a flight, you’re getting to the airport too early

  1. Pingback: Neuropolarbear

  2. Pingback: What we’re reading: Tradeoffs in a songbird pathogen, new coalescent models, and the value of museum collections | The Molecular Ecologist

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