I am an equine scientist.
I know, I know, many of you are currently sitting behind your monitor or laptop and thinking “yes Carleigh, we knew this,” but few of you probably understand what this means.
I spend most of my morning on a research facility. A horse farm that serves as a location where we can house “research animals.” Only instead of lab rats, I have a herd of horses. Thoroughbreds, Quarter Horses, Morgans, and mutts, they all exist on the North Farm. And I voyage out to this field full of beautiful, well kept, happy ponies and begin my studies.
Currently, this means that I am taking some blood samples on these mares to then isolate their immune cells. And then I take those immune cells to the lab and assess how they function after being exposed to various sex hormones in a Petri dish.
It is beneficial.
It is enlightening.
It is frustrating.
Because at the beginning of each new protocol, the research never works. And when the research doesn’t work, the researcher must troubleshoot.
This is what I have been going through for the past few months. Changing an incubation time, or the way I pipette. Altering the liquid with which we dissolve these hormones, or altering the amount of CO2 they’re exposed to.
And as I undergo this phase of my research, this time of my life full of so much frustration, I tend to lament to my colleague and fellow postdoctoral scholar, Shavahn.
But recently I explained to her that while this aspect of the learning curve is so stressful at times, it is actually the part I enjoy most.
Sure, it would be great if everything went smoothly and we instantaneously obtained data; thereby finishing the study. But when that happens, what would I learn?
I wouldn’t learn the tiny minute details that make these steroids function. I wouldn’t understand the biochemistry of just how these antagonists bind. I wouldn’t know the nuts and bolts of cell culture, and just what every tiny detail of my protocol does or means.
And I wouldn’t leave the lab at 6pm and head to the barn ready for a long ride on a green horse.
For I have realized that my riding is almost identical to my scientific exploration.
I do not crave the perfect ride on the packer, because then I would never improve. I do not crave the immediate means to the end, nor do I relish in the final endpoint and rest on my laurels.
I enjoy sitting astride that difficult young horse and unlocking the tiny details that make him tick. I enjoy the bad days as much as the good, for just like my science, it is the exploration of those bad days that improves not only my riding, but my understanding of the horse underneath me.
I learn during the stops. The unplanned dismounts. The tense flats, and the rushed strides.
I learn during the shows which end on a letter instead of a number, and the days where I never even get to swing a leg on.
And I learn during the phases of the training scale where I feel my ears pop from the rapid decent instead of the linear climb.
It isn’t during the good times that we truly understand what exactly is entailed when one aspires to be the best. This includes everything: the best rider, the best partner, the best colleague, the best scientist.
It is during the opposite of this that you find out what you are made of. Do you have the skill set? The ambition? The passion? The drive?
Can you make the controlled changes to assess if you’re fixing the problem? Can you be confident enough to do so, and yet willing enough to understand that it might take a day or ten to get any data?
This is what I believe sets some apart from others. I know that I crave the learning process of those failed experiments; those failed rides. What about you?
If you would like to learn more about my research, click here.