As I write this post I am in the middle of my 4th week here at Yale. The past couple of weeks have been rather uneventful, lacking any experiences that I felt worthy of writing a blog post about. However, my luck changed today.
When it comes to how things work in this lab, they have a very intricate and specific way of doing things in order to assure as few mistakes as possible. For example, each intern is paired with a researcher. This researcher is the person who’s studies you will get to know the best. By the end of our time here, we’ll each be an expert of those specific studies. Along the way of course, we’re also gaining knowledge and fluency in the others as well. When it comes to mastering these studies, they give you a few “practice babies” in order to get you familiar with how the actual procedure goes so that way you know what to expect with a real baby. This gives the interns some wiggle room. It allows them to get experience while being able to make mistakes without any repercussions. It’s a practice baby, after all.
Well, today was my first “real” baby. Meaning that there wasn’t a more experienced researcher running the study first to collect data, and then I would get to step in and do it again for practice. This means that I am the “more experienced researcher” and how usable the data that we collect is relies on my ability to run the study without making any mistakes. I hope you can see where this is going.
Sure enough, I made a big mistake on my first real baby. I skipped one of the steps that basically checks that the kid understands what you’re telling them. Without this, the data isn’t usable. By the time I realized my mistake (directly after I finished the next step) it was too late to circle back and correct myself. My stomach instantly dropped and I felt my face get bright red. I then made it through the rest of the study and acted like nothing went wrong, but that didn’t last very long.
Immediately after, my “mentor” approached me and said she didn’t see perform the specific step, and that we couldn’t use the data. She reassured me that it was okay and that I just needed some more practice, but that wasn’t enough to make me feel any better about my mistake. For the following hour or 2 I couldn’t stop myself from thinking about how poorly I was doing here, how I’m “behind” everyone else, and frankly, how I’m not smart enough to be here. Talking to my mom and boyfriend helped a little bit, but I still couldn’t shake the feeling that I was failing at the one thing I’m supposed to be good at.
Fast forward a few more hours and I’m on the bus heading home. I start thinking about my job at a dry cleaners back in Michigan, daydreaming about what it would be like to be back in my comfort zone, where there’s no doubt that I know what I’m doing. I was, and still am, longing for that feeling of familiarity. Then suddenly I remember a time at work when I dropped a scanner in the middle of doing something, which then meant I had to re-scan about 500 different orders (in other words, I messed up big-time). I remember the same feeling of my stomach dropping and my face flushing red. Then, what I remembered next was how my boss met my mistake with calmness, understanding, and humor.
Between my pleas of “please don’t be mad at me” and “I’m so sorry”, and so on, I remember her saying to me: “Kristen, it’s okay. It was a mistake. You can fix it. It happens.”. This pleasant side of my memory caused comfort, happiness, and security to wash over me and replace the feeling of doubt and failure.
“That’s right. Mistakes happen, and I can fix it by doing better next time. It’s okay.” I thought to myself with a grin on my face.
The moral of this long story is that this day has tested me. Up until now, this internship has been going smoothly, and I haven’t been met with many, if any, personal roadblocks. Today was the day that this changed. I had 2 options. To either a) beat myself up over this one mistake and not move on, or b) accept my mistakes and learn from them, and to do better next time. I’ve chosen the second option.