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Success Stems from Mistakes

“If you’re not failing at things, you’re not trying.”

Adam Woolley, associate chair in the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry, had these very words spoken to him when he was a student. Due to this instruction, Woolley did not simply give up when facing mistakes, but learned from them. His hard work paid off, and he has been recognized with the American Electrophoresis Society (AES) Mid-Career Award. This award honors those who have made exceptional contributions to the field of electrophoresis during their career.

“I was really surprised. It’s a great honor,” Woolley said. “It makes me look really good when I’ve had students who are so successful and work hard and accomplish great things. “

Making mistakes does not mean you will not be successful. Woolley has made many significant contributions toward the field of electrophoresis throughout his career despite set-backs.

“You learn a lot by failing,” Woolley said. “Obviously I’d like everything I do to be successful, but that doesn’t always happen. I take a lot of satisfaction and joy in the things that do work. That gets me through the things that don’t [work].”

One of many influences Woolley has made includes research to help prevent the negative effects of premature births.

“If we can develop some of the . . . techniques to work well enough, then the hope would be that we can deploy these into doctors’ offices,” Woolley said. “Doctors can determine if the woman is at risk for preterm birth, and can start taking action to help the mother and the baby, and improve the outcomes.”

Woolley has been working in the field of electrophoresis ever since he began working toward his PhD. During that time, he experienced many successes and challenges, one of which includes spending six months on a project that reached a dead-end. This experience has enabled him to relate to students during their own research.

“It’s one of those things where you learn through failure,” Woolley said. “I don’t intentionally set [students] up with these failed experiments, but sometimes it happens. They learn a lot from [failure] because they can better recognize success.”

The biggest lessons Woolley and his students learn from their errors is how to find excitement in the accomplishments they do achieve and how to ask the right questions.

“Sometimes you have to do a bunch of experiments that give you no useful results to realize that you’re asking the wrong question,” Woolley said.

By working individually with students, Woolley is able to open their eyes to the bigger picture and see more than just what has gone wrong.

“Sometimes they get so involved in the experiment, they don’t even realize how much progress they’ve made,” Woolley said. “When you point out to them the progress they’ve made and what they’ve succeeded [in doing], that helps.”

Woolley has seen his students go on to work in industry, in government labs, and at universities like Brigham Young University-Idaho.

By Camilla Stimpson Posted on