The importance of failure in graduate student training at Southern Fried Science

You should head over right now and read “The importance of failure in graduate student training” at Southern Fried Science. Andrew Thaler discusses his very cool new paper on deep-sea fungi.  In the paper, he reports that a fungus found in the Pacific are a genetic match to those found in Gulf of Mexico.  His work adds a very important piece to both the deep sea but weighs in on the debate on whether individual species of the smallest of organisms are found globally, i.e. everything is everywhere, or endemic to particular locality.  The strength of his post is discussing the process and science behind the paper and the triumph of turning failure into an eventual eureka moment.

The 12 hour shifts rarely left me enough time to eat meals. Though I had never seen the equipment before we left port I became the acoustic tracking technician, out of necessity. Things consistently went wrong. Nets tore, gear broke, a misfired box core almost crushed my leg. Two hurricanes, one a category 5, hit the Gulf of Mexico while we were at sea. Work was exhausting and rest was brief, when existent.

And things didn’t go well in the laboratory either.

Our early results in the laboratory were not indicative of future success…My second year was a desperate one, with weeks of all nighters in the lab, months of disappointing failures, and no hope in sight. At my worst, there was moments when leaving my graduate program seemed like the only way out. Not used to academic failures, I broke down, and spiraled into months of insomnia, anxiety, and heavy drinking.

Head over to see how this ends.

Dr. M (1730 Posts)

Craig McClain is the Assistant Director of Science for the National Evolutionary Synthesis Center, a National Science Foundation supported initiative. He has conducted deep-sea research for 20 years and published over 50 papers in the area. He has participated in and led dozens of oceanographic expeditions taken him to the Antarctic and the most remote regions of the Pacific and Atlantic. Craig’s research focuses on how energy drives the biology of marine invertebrates from individuals to ecosystems, specifically, seeking to uncover how organisms are adapted to different levels of carbon availability, i.e. food, and how this determines the kinds and number of species in different parts of the oceans. Craig’s research has been featured on National Public Radio, Discovery Channel, Fox News, National Geographic and ABC News. In addition to his scientific research, Craig also advocates the need for scientists to connect with the public and is the founder and chief editor of the acclaimed Deep-Sea News (, a popular ocean-themed blog that has won numerous awards. His writing has been featured in Cosmos, Science Illustrated, American Scientist, Wired, Mental Floss, and the Open Lab: The Best Science Writing on the Web. His forthcoming book, Science of the South (, connects cultural icons of South such as pecan pie with the science behind them.

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