“You didn’t expect that?!” – Survey

Kevin Machel

Every now and then we find ourselves being puzzled by the unexpected. Of course that can sometimes be entertaining as in a good movie, book or video game. But when it happens out of the ordinary it might also have serious implications as in medicine or science. See what surprised our readers:


“I was unexpectedly diagnosed with having what is called “cold nodules” in my thyroid. It happened as we were training how to do a thyroid sonification-screening with patients as a part of an ENT (ear-nose-throat)-course in my 6th semester in university. I volunteered to play the role of a patient for my peers. A peer then sonicated my thyroid and was a bit puzzled by seeing something odd. He found several small low echo nodules. The doctor in charge of our group sent me to the radiologist to do a scintigraphy right away. They then found that it were so called “cold nodules”. That means spots that are less active then the surrounding thyroid-tissue. These are the better nodules that you can have. Since then I have them controlled every year and I have to take an iodine supplement as a precautionary step. This emphasizes doing a check-up once in a while, who knows what one might find. In academic research, it might be nice to find something but in medicine, you rather don’t want to find anything out of the ordinary.”

Gina, 23, medical student


“In my opinion, serendipity is greatly reduced by a combination of inefficient student management, haste and mediocrity. Nowadays, every Ph.D is in a hurry. Four years may look like a lot of time at the beginning of a Ph.D but inefficient student and project management make it fly by fast. What to do when you’re stuck in a project that doesn’t get you anywhere? You, as a Ph.D to be, start ringing the bell, right? This is what’s expected of you, once you have your Ph.D. We are not just handing out Ph.Ds for doing some lab work getting data. Students that don’t figure this out by themselves need to be better managed, encouraged, or in the worst case, if the Ph.D seed doesn’t grow, let go. If you find yourself in a nice project and it’s all going well and your data is looking promising the clock still never stops. During this sprint to the finish there is little time to look at that funny data you got when you were just trying things or when it was not going very well, even if it actually might be something interesting. Sometimes there’s no motivation or desire anymore! Yes, I’ve seen demotivated students being stuck because they didn’t ring that bell in time. The end of your Ph.D – and the contract – is always just around the corner.

One thing I remember from a Ph.D. project: the student was sitting opposite of me in my office. The project didn’t show what they wanted, they found, as far as I remember, that a sample on a substrate still behaved as if it had water in between the sample and the substrate although none should have been present. When I heard this I asked about it. “This is a nice project for the next Ph.D” was the answer. I don’t think it has been pursued yet. Another thing is what I noticed myself on a single crystal ice boule. Made from the same water, in the same way, by the same ‘machine’ as all the other ones. Even after weeks in the same fridge under the same conditions the boule had a whitish surface while all the other ones were crystal clear. We don’t know why that happened. The milky boule has evaporated.”

Anonymous