Failure is good

Jordan by Lipofsky 16577“I’ve missed more than 9000 shots in my career. I’ve lost almost 300 games. Twenty six times, I’ve been trusted to take the game winning shot and missed. I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.” – Michael Jordan. This is one of my all time favourite quotes. If you are not familiar with basketball, I should say that Michael Jordan is one of the best basketball players of all time. In a competitive sport like basketball this is quite a feat. He had more success than all but a few sportsmen in history. I caught some of his games on TV when I was postdocing in Los Angeles in the late 1990s. – at the time he was towards the end of his career but was still playing, and still winning games almost on his own.

Anyway, in competitive sport at that level, even the very best fail sometimes, they just come back and win the next game. Now science is, fortunately, not that competitive, and, sadly, it is not as well paid. But scientific research is ambitious, and so sometimes you fail.

At the moment I am trying to calculate a cumulative distribution function for a genetic switch. It is not going well. I suspect an assumption I have made is not right.

These things happen in research. If indeed it doesn’t work, I will try another approach later in the week.

I am also teaching a computational modelling project to second year students. I worry that many are a bit too afraid of failing. The project is open ended and so students can try things, and if they don’t work, no big problem. Obviously some things should work in the ten weeks of the project, but there is scope to play around. In an open-ended piece of coursework like this, most of the fun, and half the potential to learn, is in trying things.

I am in charge of this project, so guess it is up to me to change this for next year. Will have a think. Suggestions are welcome, you can comment below.