Vigorously shaking the two milliliter eppendorf tube, the bubbles sprawled out from the bottom, captivating the threads into a structure that engulfed me in a trance. Then the trance was broken. I looked at the scratch left on my hand when I pushed the nylon glove off. A month’s worth of work had just been tossed into a trashcan. The Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR) would not show any bands of DNA, and I was left to carry my disappointment all the way to the bus stop.
While sitting on the bus, I recounted every second I spent pipetting and the hours put in that left me with only a few bands of DNA. Sitting there with the end of my pursuit in science, I realized at that moment there sat many more stories beside me. They surrounded the medical student who had jumped on the bus as she eagerly pulled out her Netter’s Anatomy ; the nurse who stared blankly at the floor as if she just delivered new noone would want to hear. Millions of stories stirred on the bus and the triviality of my end to my pursuit came into light as I found that I could make the next story on the bus completely different. The moment right then was just one moment. Our life was meant to be the culmination of these moments, all mustered with failure, brutality and raw strength. The world would move on, a reminder of philosopher Giovanni Pico’s eloquence: “thou mayest fashion thyself in whatever shape thou shalt prefer”. We can be as great as we aspire, but the converse also holds: we can create ourselves lower.
I refused to live this converse, and decided that my story the next day on the same ordinary bus would be different. Breaking out of my trance, I glanced at the extraction instructions taped on the side of the fume hood. Step thirteen stated, “Add 60 ul of isopropanol and gently invert the tube until white strands form”. This line did not do any justice to the moment that captivated my thoughts. This was not just a thread of DNA, but an infinite time capsule of the universe. It held the philosophy of Pico and brutal failure, the understanding of human discovery and scavenger, the evolution of man and the time of the past, present, and inevitable future. It held the millions of stories of my love for academics and my strive to excel academically and personally. It captured my intrigued nature for the arts and literature and also my trials within the realm of science.
Science has given me more failure than success, as failed penicillin trials sprawled my research papers and unruly PCR left me standing in front of a room of Ph.Ds and graduate students. I had to muster up the courage to say that I had no conclusion yet and only two gel slides to prove at least 112 hours of extractions and troubleshooting. For me, the helix did not only hold adenine and thymine, it held my diligence and failure which have led to my success and love for observance, discovery and exploration. I walked into the Orjala Lab that summer looking for anti-cancer compounds – but instead I found that the things I truly love are the things that challenge me, the things that Pico saw, and the things that I see in myself. Within the helix, I discovered my own story in the world of science.