Friday Fails #1: Some Questions Are Stupid

Welcome to a new series: Friday Fails. I’m aiming for weekly consistency with this one, but some may weeks I may just Tweet my fails (and inevitably miss some posts, look out for an upcoming Friday Fail on not posting the previous week!). The reason for this series is not to denigrate myself, it’s in the interest of honesty. The point is to showcase the real me, or at least a less shiny version… shiny as in that girl in your lab who has an NSF grant, 3 papers, and manages to show up every day looking πŸ’―; or that professor who got tenure while raising 2 kids and publishing her ass off. These are the shiny people. And as Jenny Lawson says in her book Furiously Happy:

“Stop judging yourself against shiny people. Avoid the shiny people. The shiny people are a lie. Or get to know them enough to realize they aren’t so shiny after all.”

And shininess is a lie. Because that shiny student may also suffer from depression, and that shiny professor might secretly be a hoarder. The point is that the you that other people see, is very rarely the you that you see. Since most of my posts showcase my shiny finished work (not to be confused with my finished shiny work), this series will show the dull side of that coin. I hope that by posting about the ups and downs of my work and career, I can strip away some of whatever shininess you may see in me, and show that in reality we all have beautiful shiny successes and ugly dull fails–and that’s ok πŸ˜„. But, to maintain cosmic harmony, I’ll balance my Friday Fails with Saturday Success, so stay tuned. Now, on to the real post.


Up through high school, I was always told by teachers that “There are no stupid questions.” Well, I’m here to say, that’s a load of BS. There are stupid questions… many stupid questions. Regarding science/programming, asking a question without googling it first is stupid. I’m sure developers experience this constantly, with questions from people using old versions of their software or not looking on stack overflow first. I can only imagine how frustrating it must be for developers to waste their time reading and responding to stupid questions, so I felt very silly this week when I posted a question to the ggtree google group about a bug I thought I had found in specifying node labels on a tree I was plotting. Turns out, even after googling, reading, and testing my code for over an hour, I was simply specifying the wrong parameter to ggtree. Guangchang Yu (author of ggtree) was very polite and just responded with “pls use correct parameter clade_name not clade_label”, but it was a pretty embarrassing mistake to have posted on a public forum with my picture and name on it. A stupid mistake leads to a stupid question, and that’s my Friday Fail.

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