Houston voices

How researchers can cultivate patience, according to University of Houston expert

Usually, research takes time and patience — here are some tips for cultivating patience. Graphic by Miguel Tovar/University of Houston

Aristotle, one of the most famous philosophers and scientists of all time, once said, "Patience is bitter, but its fruit is sweet."

What the phrase conveys is all too familiar to those in the scientific community. Patience needs to be cultivated by researchers who wait for the outcome of their studies. History is full of success stories of the science community showing both patience and persistence.

Quitters never prosper

Patience is essentially the ability to stay relatively unruffled in the face of adversity. Earning a Ph.D. takes time, writing grants and getting funding takes time, and experiments – some of them never yield results or take a long time to do so.

For example, there is the story of the two scientists who discovered the HPV virology, which eventually led to routine tests that check for cervical cancer in women. They were studying and researching the bacteria that causes the HPV virus for nearly 13 years before their findings were accepted. "In January 1928, Dr. George N. Papanicolaou first announced his findings at the Third Race Betterment Conference in Battle Creek, Michigan, but these were met with skepticism and resistance from the scientific community. This rejection did not deter Dr. Papanicolaou from continuing his research in this field in 1939, until eventually his findings were published on March 11, 1941," wrote Ioannis N. Mammas and Demetrios A. Spandidos in Experimental and Therapeutic Medicine.

This is by no means the only example – many researchers face setbacks and long experimentation periods that seemingly go nowhere, making any outcome at all even more sacred.

A marshmallow now…

A new study by Adrianna Jenkins, a UC Berkeley postdoctoral researcher, and Ming Hsu, an associate professor of marketing and neuroscience at UC Berkeley's Haas School of Business, is making headway in determining whether willpower is actually the way one overcomes adversity or if patience is born of something else. We know the famous marshmallow test, where young children were told they could have one marshmallow right away or two marshmallows if they waited a short time. Thirty years later, the children with better impulse control were more successful than their counterparts who had little self-control.

The newer study works like this: "The actual reward outcomes were identical, but the way they were framed differed. For example, under an "independent" frame, a participant could receive $100 tomorrow or $120 in 30 days. Under a "sequence" frame, a participant had to decide whether to receive $100 tomorrow and no money in 30 days or no money tomorrow and $120 in 30 days." More on this later.

As one might guess, the ones who showed delayed gratification were the ones using their imaginations the most: "Participants in the sequence frame reported imagining the consequences of their choices more than those in the independent frame. One participant wrote, 'It would be nice to have the $100 now, but $20 more at the end of the month is probably worth it because this is like one week's gas money.''

Willing yourself patient?

So how does willpower play into the equation? "Whereas willpower might enable people to override impulses, imagining the consequences of their choices might change the impulses," Jenkins says. "People tend to pay attention to what is in their immediate vicinity, but there are benefits to imagining the possible consequences of their choices."

Researchers may not think of themselves as particularly creative, but an imagination is definitely needed to frame hypotheses and conduct experiments, so one could argue that scientists are perhaps some of the most creative, imaginative people around.

The Big Idea

Waiting is still a drag, right?

In The Greater Good, a University of California – Berkeley science magazine, there were three concrete steps to help your research become even more fulfilling and make you more patient as an investigator: mindfulness, reframing the situation and being grateful.

First, mindfulness. Mindfulness techniques include things as simple as acknowledging you are overwhelmed or frustrated with a co-PI. It lets you deal better and leads to the second step, which is reframing the situation in a positive light. And, remember the $120 scenario? Those who were grateful for the amount of money they were receiving did better at delaying gratification, according to the study.

So, when you're working on your latest research, don't forget to practice patience. The fruits will taste even sweeter once the obstacles are endured, one by one.

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This article originally appeared on the University of Houston's The Big Idea. Sarah Hill, the author of this piece, is the communications manager for the UH Division of Research.

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Building Houston

 
 

From a low-cost vaccine to an app that can help reduce exposure, here are the latest COVID-focused and Houston-based research projects. Photo via Getty Images

While it might seem like the COVID-19 pandemic has settled down for the time being, there's plenty of innovative research ongoing to create solutions for affordable vaccines and tech-enabled protection against the spread of the virus.

Some of that research is happening right here in Houston. Here are two innovative projects in the works at local institutions.

UH researcher designs app to monitor best times to shop

A UH professor is putting safe shopping at your fingertips. Photo via UH.edu

When is the best time to run an errand in the pandemic era we currently reside? There might be an app for that. Albert Cheng, professor of computer science and electrical and computer engineering at the University of Houston, is working on a real-time COVID-19 infection risk assessment and mitigation system. He presented his plans at the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers conference HPC for Urgent Decision Making and will publish the work in IEEE Xplore.

Cheng's work analyzes up-to-date data from multiple open sources to see when is the best time to avoid crowds and accomplish activities outside the home.

"Preliminary work has been performed to determine the usability of a number of COVID-19 data websites and other websites such as grocery stores and restaurants' popular times and traffic," Cheng says in a UH release. "Other data, such as vaccination rates and cultural factors (for example, the percentage of people willing to wear facial coverings or masks in an area), are also used to determine the best grocery store to shop in within a time frame."

To use the app, a user would input their intended destinations and the farthest distance willing to go, as well as the time frame of the trip. The risk assessment and mitigation system, or RT-CIRAM, then "provides as output the target location and the time interval to reach there that would reduce the chance of infections," said Cheng.

There's a lot to it, says Cheng, and the process is highly reliant on technology.

"We are leveraging urgent high-performance cloud computing, coupled with time-critical scheduling and routing techniques, along with our expertise in real-time embedded systems and cyber-physical systems, machine learning, medical devices, real-time knowledge/rule-based decision systems, formal verification, functional reactive systems, virtualization and intrusion detection," says Cheng.

2 Houston hospitals team up with immunotherapy company for new vaccine for Africa

The new vaccine will hopefully help mitigate spread of the disease in Sub-Saharan Africa. Photo via bcm.edu

Baylor College of Medicine and Texas Children's Hospital have teamed up with ImmunityBio Inc. — a clinical-stage immunotherapy company — under a licensing agreement to develop a safe, effective and affordable COVID-19 vaccine.

BCM has licensed out a recombinant protein COVID-19 vaccine candidate that was developed at the Texas Children's Hospital Center for Vaccine Development to ImmunityBio. According to the release, the company engaged in license negotiations with the BCM Ventures team, about the vaccine that could address the current pandemic needs in South Africa.

"We hope that our COVID-19 vaccine for global health might become an important step towards advancing vaccine development capacity in South Africa, and ultimately for all of Sub-Saharan Africa," says Dr. Peter Hotez, professor and dean of the National School of Tropical Medicine at Baylor and co-director of the Texas Children's Hospital Center for Vaccine Development.

ImmunityBio, which was founded in 2014 by Dr. Patrick Soon-Shiong, is working on innovative immunotherapies that address serious unmet needs in infectious diseases, according to a news release from BCM.

"There is a great need for second-generation vaccines, which are accessible, durable and offer broad protection against the emerging variants," says Soon-Shiong. "ImmunityBio has executed on a heterologous ("mix-and-match") strategy to develop a universal COVID-19 vaccine. To accomplish this, we have embarked upon large-scale good manufacturing practices and development of DNA (adenovirus), RNA (self-amplifying mRNA) and subunit protein (yeast) vaccine platforms. This comprehensive approach will leverage our expertise in these platforms for both infectious disease and cancer therapies."

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