Home About Us Cover Story Selected Articles
Selected Articles 精选文章 > Failure Is Part of the Job Description
失败是工作的职务之一败
Failure Is Part of the Job Description
Juliana Chan (Dr) (Founder and Editor-in-Chief, Asian Scientist Magazine)
Photos courtesy of Dr Juliana Chan
Published: EduNation, Issue 3, May-Jun 2013
The thought of failure crossed my mind a lot this week. I have been attending the inaugural 2013 Global Young Scientists Summit, or GYSS@one-north, which is modelled after the annual Lindau Nobel Laureate Meeting in Germany and also the first of its kind in Asia.

It would be reasonable to hope that — after listening to 12 Nobel Laureates and other prize winners discuss their scientific breakthroughs — I would see a path, albeit long and winding, to scientific success in my own career. After all, I suspect that inspiring young scientists was the goal of the summit in the first place.

But all I could see was failure. And please do not get me wrong, I'm not the "glass half-empty" type of person. It is just that in every talk, the speakers would humorously tell us about their years of failure that in some cases lasted for decades, long before that 6 am call arrived from Stockholm bearing a message of Nobel-sized proportions.

A year of failure per Powerpoint slide, I estimated.

During the summit, Dan Shechtman, 2011 Nobel Laureate in Chemistry, recounted how fellow laureate Linus Pauling spent the last decade of his life proving that Shechtman's findings were incorrect. "There are no quasi-crystals, there are only quasi-scientists". Pauling told Shechtman, and stayed unconvinced to his death. But Shechtman remained single-minded in proving the existence of the icosahedral phase, which has now been verified to exist in nature.

Ada Yonath tried for years to crystallize the ribosome, a large complex machine in our cells where all proteins are synthesised. Each time she tried, the ribosome crystals would melt within seconds when she attempted to view them. It was only after six years that — by pioneering the technique of cryo-crystallography — she was able to obtain the first structure of the ribosome. Considering that under five per cent of all Nobel laureates are women, it probably made winning the 2009 Nobel Prize in Chemistry even sweeter in her case.

Taken from another perspective, I'd say that these 12 laureates didn't only succeed the most, they also failed the most. Strangely, they all seemed to enjoy the iterative process of discovery.

But let's say the majority of us aren't in the category of potential Nobel nominees, are we then spared from the drudgery of failure?

Absolutely not. Failure happens to everyone, except that those who keep on trying have the chance of escaping it occasionally, versus those who shun it at all costs. My time as a graduate student taught me that 99 per cent of all experiments are unsuccessful (in my case at least), and that aiming higher (and falling harder) was the only path to graduation.

I've also spent a lot of time promoting science careers to aspiring scientists during road shows and workshops. Rather than spend the session waxing lyrical about science, I tell them honestly that failure is part of the job description. I describe failure as a deeply misunderstood friend, and Nobel laureates as regular people who fail repeatedly while tackling the most bewildering questions out there.

However, the dogged pursuit of success is not for everyone and can even lead to unintended outcomes. Cautionary tales include Hwang Woo-suk, the Korean scientist who fraudulently claimed his team had successfully cloned the first human embryo and extracted stem cells from it. And a more recent example is Lance Armstrong, who did all he could to win the Tour de France, even at the expense of his own moral code.

That kind of intense competition is something that the Singapore education system is trying to avoid. I have been following closely the recent changes to the Ministry of Education curriculum, such as the introduction of Character and Citizenship Education (CCE) into the syllabus and also the move to withhold the scores and names of top PSLE scorers.

While I applaud the move as I recall the pressures I went through as a student, more fundamentally, students must be given the license to make mistakes at that age because failure is a better teacher than success.

Most of us may be familiar with Amy Chua, professor of law at the Yale Law School, who is also known as the "Tiger Mother". Chua insisted that her two daughters practise the piano daily, and by the time her elder daughter Sophia was 14, she had made her piano debut at Carnegie Hall in New York performing Prokofiev's Romeo and Juliet.

Chua's version of parenting is that one has to train hard before one can succeed, be it in music, sports, or science; and that children are not mature enough to understand the concept of delayed gratification, hence the need for constant pushing. Her methods are a tad extreme, but her words bear some truth.

Perhaps we may also need to redefine success in non-academic terms, which is why I am thrilled to see that there are now dedicated schools for aspiring ballerinas, installation artists, and bowlers.

Steve Wozniak, co-founder of Apple, once said that Singapore could not produce a company like Apple because of the dearth of creativity here.

"Where are the creative people? Where are the great artists? Where are the great musicians? Where are the great writers?" Wozniak asked in an interview with the BBC.

I think it is because failure is not acceptable in our culture that creativity is also undermined. After all, creativity brings with it a certain degree of risk. Scientific discovery is also a function of creativity, and without it, would Singapore be able to produce a Nobel laureate of its own?

As the conference wraps up on Friday, I hope that the 280 young scientists attending the event will return home with renewed confidence that it is OK to fail at something they love doing.

The article was first published in Asian Scientist Magazine on 24 January 2013.
 


精选文章 > 失败是工作的职务之一败
失败是工作的职务之一败
曾叔评博士 (《亚洲科学家》杂志创办人兼总编辑)
图:曾评博士提供
刊载:《新学》, 第3期,2013年5月-6月
这个星期出席2013年首届环球青年科学家峰会的时候,“失败”两个字常在我脑海萦绕。这个峰会是亚洲版的德国林道诺贝尔奖得主论坛,是第一次在亚洲举行。

在听过12位诺贝尔奖得主及其他获奖科学家讨论他们的科研突破后,我本应看到自己在通往科研事业的道路上,即便中间要走很多曲折坎坷路,最终也能获得成功。我想举办这个峰会的首要目的,也不外乎启发及鼓励年轻科学家,并给他们力量。

可惜,在这个大会,我听到的只有失败。请不要误会,我不是个悲观主义者,只是每一位演讲者都幽默地诉说他们失败的岁月,有的甚至经历了几十年的挫折,才接到早上六点钟从瑞典斯德哥尔摩打来的诺贝尔奖得奖通知电话。

我估计,他们一张演讲幻灯片,就代表了他们一年的失败。

峰会上,2011年诺贝尔化学奖得主谢兹曼忆述两届诺贝尔化学奖得主的鲍林如何用生命中最后的10年来证明谢兹曼的发现是错的。鲍林对谢兹曼说:“没有‘准晶’这种东西,只有‘准科学家’这种人。”直到离世,鲍林都不信服谢兹曼的发现。但谢兹曼坚持不懈,他努力证明20面体结构的存在。如今,20面体结构已经被证实存在于大自然中。

年复一年,以色列女科学家约纳特不断尝试让人体内的核糖体结成晶体。每一次尝试,这种大且复杂的蛋白质合成工厂都会在几秒内融化,使她来不及观察其结构。不断失败六年后,当她使用了“低温晶体法”,才得以完成世界上第一个核糖体结构。她同时也成为低温晶体法的先驱。

有史以来,诺贝尔奖女性得主只占5%。这让赢得2009年诺贝尔化学奖的约纳特更加喜悦。

换个角度看,出席峰会的这12位诺贝尔奖得主现在虽然都功成名就,却也曾一败涂地。奇怪的是,他们似乎都很享受探索之旅中不断失败的实验过程。

得诺贝尔奖毕竟不是多数人的经验,那我们能避免受失败奴役吗?

当然不能。人人都会失败,惟有不断尝试,或不惜代价避开失败的人,可以暂时逃避失败。攻读博士学位的时候,我了解到,只有99%的实验失败(至少我的情况是如此)以及高远的目标(也摔得越重),才是毕业的惟一途径。

我也花很多时间在展览会及工作坊上向立志成为科学家的年轻人推广科研事业。与其天花乱坠地推销科研,我坦白告诉他们:“失败是科学家工作的职务之一”。我视失败为一个被深深误解的朋友,是伪装的祝福。诺贝尔奖得主和你、我一样,也是普通人,只是他们不怕失败,坚持努力解决许多最麻烦的问题。

然而,不是任何努力不懈的人都能成功,有时甚至会导致不堪的后果,世界上不乏警世事迹。韩国科学家黄禹锡曾谎称他的团队成功复制第一个人类胚胎,还声称已从中抽取干细胞。最近还有一个例子是世界著名自行车手兰斯·阿姆斯特朗,为了赢得环法自行车赛不择手段,甚至不惜违反体育精神和职业操守。

如此激烈的竞争是新加坡教育系统尽量避免的。最近,我特别留意教育部的种种动向,其中包括推出新的品格与公民教育课程,以及不公布小六会考状元名单的举措。

回想我学生时代所承受的压力,我为这些新举措欢呼。我认为年纪轻的学生犯错是无可厚非,是自然而然,应该被允许的,因为失败是一位比成功更好的老师。

大家都熟悉蔡美儿。她是美国耶鲁大学法学院的教授,也被称为“虎妈”。蔡美儿坚持要两个女儿每天练习弹钢琴,这样不懈的努力,让她的大女儿苏菲亚,年仅14岁就在美国纽约卡内基音乐厅举行个人钢琴首演,当天她弹奏普罗科菲耶夫的作品《罗密欧与朱丽叶》。

无论是学习音乐、运动或数理,蔡美儿的指导原则是“苦练才会成功”。孩子幼小,还不够成熟,无法理解先苦后甜的道理,于是需要大人不断鞭策。她的方法稍嫌极端,但所说的话颇有道理。

也许我们须要用非学术性的术语来为成功重新定义。看到现在有了专门培养芭蕾舞者、装置艺术工作者及保龄球选手的专才学校,我感到十分雀跃。

“苹果”公司的创办人之一斯蒂夫·沃兹尼亚克曾说,新加坡不会出现一家像“苹果”的公司,因为新加坡人根本没有创意。

他在访问中对英国广播公司说:“在新加坡,有创意的人在哪里?伟大的艺术家在那里?伟大的音乐家在哪里?伟大的作家在哪里?”

我认为,这是因为我们的文化不接受失败,也同时扼杀了创意,因为创意总带有一定的风险。科学领域的探索也是创意的一种,缺乏创意,新加坡培养得出诺贝尔奖得主吗?

星期五峰会结束后,我希望出席峰会的280名年轻科学家能够再次对自己充满信心,并相信在追求自己兴趣的时候失败,其实无伤大雅。

Juliana Chan (Dr) / 曾 评博士
Dr Juliana Chan received a PhD in Biology from MIT, USA with a MA and BA (First Class Hons) in Natural Sciences from the University of Cambridge, UK. Her scientific work has been featured by the BBC Health website, and she won the 2010 Singapore Women抯 Weekly Great Women Of Our Time Award (Science & Technology). In 2011 she was a recipient of the L扥r閍l-UNESCO for Women in cience National Fellowships. Her research interests include microfluidics and nanoparticle-based drug delivery. 曾 评是美国麻省理工学院的生物学博士,之前在英国剑桥大学获得自然科学一级荣誉学士及硕士学位。她的科学研究曾被英国广播公司的健康频道报道,并于2010年获颁新加坡《每周女性》周刊“时代杰出女性(科学与科技)”殊荣。她也获得2011年由欧莱雅集团及联合国教科文组织联合颁发的“为投身于科学的女性”国家奖学金。她的主要研究领域是运用微流控技术和纳米粒子作为药物载体。

 

» Past Issues
» Last issue
» Contents

Contact us   |   Advertise with us   |   Privacy Policy
Published by WS Education is a subsidiary of

Copyright © 2018 EduNation Co. All rights reserved.