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Celebrating small wins

Updated: Feb 16

One of the hardest things in life may well be accepting and even embracing small wins, as the starting point to spring forward. I am no different from many scientists in my quest to do rigorous and high quality research. A way to measure this by the prevalent and more quantifiable metrics would be the journal you publish research findings, its impact factor, cite score, quartile and the works. While I do not entirely disagree, I think it would be best to table the discussion on the worthiness of these metrics to another day. But regardless whether you do or do not measure the success of your research by these standards, you will agree that they tend to be not reflective of the true backend stories, the challenges or struggles you and/or the team overcame, finding your path in the grand scheme of things and perhaps do not, on the face of it, wear any accessory wins, such as establishment of facilities, optimization of experiments and assays, as a badge of honour, as they should.


We published the original article 'Early insights into the role of Exoc6b associated with spondyloepimetaphyseal dysplasia with joint laxity type 3 in primary ciliogenesis and chondrogenic differentiation in vitro' in Feb 2024. A full declaration as the title suggests is that it is an article that describes our initial and preliminary results about the obscure Exoc6b gene, which had been associated using next generation sequencing to a rare and severe genetic skeletal disorder, a few years ago, right around the time I had got back to India to start as an independent PI. And indeed there are many directions that need to be explored and additional experiments required, preferably both in cell based and a tetrapod model (because we are talking about skeletal disease) to further substantiate our findings. And translate them into therapies, one day!


This interesting study, originated from an Early Career Research (ECR) award that I received at the outset of my career as an independent principal investigator or lab head. It is work in progress that still has miles to go.


I started this project heavily pregnant and reeling under the demands of new motherhood and setting up lab with next-to-nothing support or mentoring. Returning back to India, after ten years during which I had completed my PhD and post-PhD studies abroad, was equally, if not more terrifying than having to start life and a PhD from scratch at the age of 24 years. Perhaps it was scarier because I was well-aware of the unforgiving nature of research.


Life and science owe you nothing.


As we worked on this project we navigated the predictable roadblocks in the scientific process but there were unexpected challenges too, collaborator relationships that soured, getting almost scooped, students leaving midway, and the noose on funding tightened.

I state these as facts, not excuses, because I am sure even with all these constraints I could have done better. Maybe if I were anymore seasoned as a PI? However, there is a learning curve to any job and this experience is part of mine.


So why did I go ahead to publish early findings and not brew the story for more substance in another several years, to publish 'big(er)'?


In the school of research I was reared in, one would have.


My training all along had been all about getting answers to as many questions, with fastidiousness and wait for the 'whole story' or as much of it before even thinking of publishing it. And while that might be the ideal way, I have also seen some scientists bear the brunt of the not-so-desirable effects of this extreme.


I strongly believe science is an ever changing quest. There is nothing absolute about it. There are not many findings that are facts and in being so are irrefutable. The key, however, might be to always remain vigilant of assumptions and to acknowledge the limitations of a study, even if it wears many shiny ornaments of scientific success.


Always build from your roadblocks.


For this work I have a great degree of confidence in the work we put in and our collective endeavour to do the best we could, at the time, with the resources available. I also think there is some value in sharing initial findings with the necessary disclaimers, with the scientific community at large. The multiple rounds of peer-review involved in the process of publication are also valuable in honing the study and drawing up the path ahead. And I strongly believe that having it out there, is a good acknowledgment of the contribution of funding bodies and why they should keep investing in researchers like us, outside the elite institutions.

Finally I think this paper, represents the roots of this work before it leaps forward, into the unknown. And that is an exciting prospect, always!


You can read the full article at https://rdcu.be/dxGAY



If you made it thus far, thank you for reading! If you have any thoughts on this research article or the topic of the post, do feel free to leave us a comment.

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