“There is No Such Thing as a Failed Experiment” and Other Lessons International Research Taught Me

Emily Chua, Boston University, Boston, United States
International collaborative research is a high risk, high reward endeavor. The challenges faced by any researcher, such as coordinating with collaborators, securing funding, and getting experiments up and running, are amplified when attempting to do so abroad. On the flip side, the payoff can be immense, especially for early-career scientists – benefits include expanding one’s network on an international scale, gaining outside perspectives on one’s work, and obtaining access to resources not available at one’s home institution. In this presentation, I will share the trials and tribulations I experienced during a six-week research stay at Dalhousie University in Nova Scotia, Canada – as well as the subsequent wisdom I gained. My original project proposal contained highly ambitious target goals, with multiple lab experiments and field deployments planned for a novel underwater instrument developed as part of my dissertation. As is bound to happen, numerous unexpected obstacles were encountered at all stages of the collaboration, including personal illness, interception of lab equipment by customs, and instrument malfunctions. While in the moment each of these obstacles appeared to present a huge setback, in retrospect they provided priceless learning opportunities that I argue are even more valuable than having everything run smoothly. My hope is that these anecdotes and accompanying lessons learned will hopefully encourage other students to persevere as they conduct their own international research.