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장태훈 researcher / Saying that I want to quit was a habit of mine.



1. Hello, my name is 장태훈 and I’m a 3rd year researcher for integrated masters/doctoral degree.

I am currently 3rd year researcher, working on organic chemistry in the molecular design and organic synthesis lab.


I focus on developing a specific catalytic system for certain reactions or upgrading the original catalytic systems. Also, I am a freelance translator with certificate since I wanted to put my English skills in use.




2. Making use of my english ability.

Since I was very young, I enjoyed studying English quite much. Eventually I went on steadily developing my skills, and I knew that my English was quite good.


But then I entered KAIST, and here my English skills didn’t benefit me to large extent. I thought that it was a waste if I didn’t put my English skills into use, and I studied for translator certificate which my sister already had.


Translating is a freelance thing for me, but aside from that it helps a lot me when I write papers or publications.



3. Researcher – research note = 0 Research note is an essential thing for a researcher. You will get in trouble for not writing a properly. I don’t mean that you will get punished or scolded by someone, but I mean that your researcher itself will be problematic.


The details are what that matters in research, and it’s almost impossible to remember all of them. So you must write the research note to keep track of changing experimental environments or outcome, and compare the various experimental procedures.



3-1 How to write research note

Usually I write my plans for experiments regarding my research, then I add the outcomes after I check the results. During the experimental procedures I take into account what I had planned, and when I do something that I haven’t done before, I write down to the tiniest details such as ‘add the reagent slowly dropwise’ or ‘dilute the solvent before you use it’.



4. Numerous failures

Failing in an experiment is a everyday thing, and I bet most graduate students or researchers have the similar experience.


For my case, I simple mistake cost me 3 days. It was because I had connected different gas line to what I should have connected. It was quite frustrating since I had wasted 3 days for nothing.


Other than this, most failures come from when we reproduce the reported papers or publications. In fact more than 50% of these experiments don’t reproduce successfully, which is due to the slight changes of environment or the skills of the researcher conducting them. To be fair, remaining 50% does get reproduced.


I once gave up the whole project because I failed to reproduce the results even after a long time. Actually, even now I am working on this experiment which just don’t come out the same it did a year ago.



5. It’s frustrating… should I give up? X100

The graduate school is not easy. This makes me and my colleagues say things like ‘we should quit’, but it doesn’t mean that we actually want to walk away.


The frustration is for the projects we work on, but not for the whole graduate school course. I once worked on a project for 2 straight months, not leaving the lab even in my birthday, Christmas, and the new year’s eve. Even though I tried that hard, the project didn’t proceed at all, so I had to start all over from the beginning.


It was so frustrating at the moment, and I really wanted to quit working on that research, but when I started all over I found that previous researcher had made a fatal error in the procedure. It was so frustrating, but it was quite relieving at the same time since I found the problem and solved it.



6. Failing in university entrance exams; more frustrating than research

I was a science high school student, and I failed to graduate along with my peers in 2nd year since I had failed in all university entrance exams. This was one of the hardest times in my life as I recall.


There was one university that I had been accepted additionally, but I decided to spend 1 more year in high school. Although it was my own decision, I was quite frustrated and depressed.


Of course, I knew that I didn’t try my best until then and I really put my best effort for that year, and overcame the depression and frustration by entering KAIST.




7. Consider various possibilities

When my research or experiment failed due to simple mistakes such as a gas line episode, I didn’t really think of it as a failure since it could be fixed by simple correction.


But after I gave up a project that cost me several months, I began to consider the various possible outcomes that an experiment can yield. I was a 1st year at the time so I didn’t consider these possibilities and just thought that my work will of course be successful.


This arrogance led me to frustration and depression when the outcomes did not match my expectations, and I learned to be open to various possibilities.




8. A good researcher needs to control mentality.

I’m still just a 3rd year graduate student, but I already know that experience is very important in research. I think you should not be obsessed with the day-to-day experiments or failures, and should control your own mind so that you can be steady in your life as a researcher.


①A researcher that takes care of his/her own job in the lab

②A researcher who can self-feedback on his/her research

③A researcher who knows when to quit


First, a lab is not just where we do our research, but it is a place where everyone has their own role for the lab to function. So it is important to take responsibility for their own actions and works.


Second, you have to plan and feedback on your own research by yourself, in an objective point of view.


Third, being steady on your work is important, but you also should know when to quit. Don’t be obsessed on projects or research that does not yield the expected outcomes and think about how probable your project actually is. If it doesn’t seem promising, you should be able to walk away from it.



 

장태훈 researcher

"Failure is inevitable."



About the interviewee

Department of Chemistry, KAIST

3rd year integrated masters/doctoral degree in Department of Chemistry, KAIST

ITT translator certificate for English/Korean