Francis Collins: Solving mysteries doesn’t just happen because you want to or because you designed this clever little experiment and it works the first time. I continue to run a research lab at NIH. I have ten people who work with me on diabetes and on aging, and as I could say has been true for my entire research career, about 95% of the experiments we do are total failures, and that’s because we’re out there on the leading edge of what’s possible, and most of the time it isn’t quite possible.
And you have to kind of get used to that and even take it, after you’ve developed a little maturity about it, as a badge of reality-check that you really are asking a hard problem. If your experiments are working all the time, must not be a very interesting problem. So a lot of science is very hard work, and yes, there’s a lot of disappointment, and that was tough for me when I first moved into experimental science, and I sort of attached my own sense of personal worth to whether the experiment had worked or not, and since most of the time it didn’t, I was beginning to wonder, “What’s wrong with me?”
And then I began to realize, “No, wait a minute. That’s just a sign that you’re doing something really hard and really important, and stick to it, and ultimately you might learn something.” And so when you have those moments — and they don’t come along all the time, where something does work and you get an insight into how life works or how disease happens that nobody else knew before, that is not a moment that you can possibly step away from without being affected, and that keeps you going, and that says, “Okay, I’m in it. I’m ready for the next one.”