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14 Jan 2019

A day in the life of a Doherty Institute student: Natalia Salazar-Quiroz

With a new round of PhD students soon joining us, we asked current students to provide us with an insight into what studying at the Doherty Institute is like. Here, PhD student Natalia Salazar-Quiroz shares a key skill she has learnt whilst here, the art of troubleshooting.

The art of troubleshooting

If knowledge is the well-known foundation of science, troubleshooting is the “secret” one. During your PhD life you become good at it (or you’re expected to) and, in my case, if my experiments didn’t work I’ve learnt to troubleshoot them in different ways.

The first option is by myself: checking the protocols, SOPs or publications online to confirm I used the right amount of reagents or incubation time.

However, If I can’t find an answer, the next easiest option is in the lab or during lab meetings (round table = brainstorming; good stuff). Sometimes it happens outside uni with a cup of coffee, talking to my lab mates about my favourite show’s last episode or the croissant they’re munching, when one of them asks about yesterday’s experiment and I feel confident enough to ask opinions.

But my personal favourite troubleshooting method is when you have finished work late and you just want to have some beers to forget your sorrows, but the results bug you so much that you end up spilling your troubles all over the wedges the waiter just served you and, dragging your friends into your world, they help you put things into a new perspective, shedding new light.

Sometimes they can’t help you though, so you go to bed thinking what went wrong, and dream about broken machines or mistaken antibody cocktails. It isn’t until you macerated the matter overnight, and you recapitulate what you did while in the shower the morning after, that it hits you.

That instant of clarity gives you so much satisfaction, that is only beaten by the moment you get the results after repeating the experiment but taking care of the controls you forgot, or the extra steps your mates suggested, or the swap of reagents… and it works!

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