Live & Learn: Maslim

Failure is useful. Therefore, this feature is about what didn’t work out.
Illustration Stijn Schreven

A botched experiment, a rejected paper: such things are soon labelled as failures in academia. As for talking about them – not done! But that is just what WUR scientists do in this column. Because failure has its uses. This time, we hear from Maslim, a PhD candidate in Aquaculture and Fisheries.

‘For my PhD research I wanted to collect skin samples from leatherback sea turtles in Sumatra and Papua, in order to study their population genetics. Because my PhD fell under the WIMEK graduate school, two external reviewers had to review my research proposal.

‘Whereas the first reviewer approved our proposal, the second wrote an email to the director of WIMEK with the feedback. Normally, feedback is just included in the document, so this was very unusual.’

This reviewer wanted to show their good connections and power

‘This reviewer told the director that I had not contacted the partners in Indonesia about my plans, and was afraid my project would ruin their project in the area. The reviewer also said that it would be difficult, if not impossible, to get permits to export samples. Finally, the person warned the director that I may also not have contacted other partners in the region.

‘It was clear to me that this reviewer wanted to show their good connections and power. I was shocked, as was my supervisor. Luckily, my supervisor trusted and supported me. We talked to our partners on the sites that the reviewer mentioned. We agreed there had been some misunderstanding, and decided to drop our plan to take samples there, to avoid duplication and problems. After that, we responded to the feedback, and WIMEK approved the proposal.

‘Sometimes in our field of expertise, there is someone who wants no competition and wants to be on top. You just have to accept that such people exist, and for me, avoiding confrontation with them is the best policy. Even in writing this story, I am cautious.’

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