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mad scientist

103: Laboratory of Horrors!

“Hey, I won’t be able to make it over for movies tonight.  I’ve got to finish these timepoints…  Yeah, I know it’s the third time this week, but I promise I’ll leave a early tomorrow…  Okay, sorry.  Goodnight.”

Gary ends the phone call and sighs.  This is not the first time he’s had to cancel a date to finish up an experiment.   He’s starting to detect some resentment in his girlfriend’s voice.

As the minutes tick by on his timer, Gary sees lights flip off in the adjacent laboratory bays.  Even the postdocs have gone home.  Looks like it’ll be another long, lonely night – just him and an incubator full of cells.

He’s scrolling through his phone to find a playlist that can keep him awake for the next few hours when there’s a faint clink of glass somewhere in the darkened part of the lab.

He finds the playlist just as he hears a faint tap, tap, tap coming from the same direction.

“Maybe one of the postdocs left a cage of mice here by accident,” he thinks.  He pops out his ear buds and listens again… tap… tap… tap…

But the sound is too rhythmic to be mice. 

“They really need to fix that faucet.  That thing has been leaking for weeks.”

Tap… tap… tappity tappity tap.  Whatever is dripping seems to be coming faster now.

“Is someone there?” Gary asks, feeling stupid for the uncanny tightness now rising in his chest.  Tap… tappity tap tap… 

The sound that was just dripping is now streaming, a thin drizzle falling onto the soapstone bench.

Gary stands, and keeping his eyes toward the source of the sound, creeps carefully toward the light switch.  That’s when a nauseating wave of stench hits his nostrils.

His pupils constrict as he reaches the switch and the lights flash across a viscous puddle slowly growing larger on the bench to his right.  The pool has spilled over the edge, dripping foul, sticky liquid onto the floor. 

The odor is unmistakable and overpowering. He tears up, each breath a painful struggle to get enough air.

His eyes slowly follow the vile stream to its source…

“Dammit!  Who spilled that bottle of β-mercaptoethanol and didn’t clean it up!?”

Little Lab of Horrors

Life in grad school may not have many horror-movie freak-outs, but there are plenty of harrowing and traumatic experiences to thrill even the most stoic scientist.

In celebration of Halloween, we asked our listeners about their lab and grad school horror stories!

We heard chilling tales of fires, floods, and freezers on the fritz.  There are stories of dissertations delayed, pilfering PIs, and even explosions! Eeeek!

When you tune in, be sure to sample our new favorite pumpkin ale from Rogue Brewing.  It’s the Limited Edition Pumpkin Patch Ale, made from pumpkins they grow themselves!  

And here are a few of the resources we mentioned in the show:

Share your laboratory horror stories with us on Twitter (@hellophd) or via email.  Happy Halloween!

New Year's Eve Fireworks

086: Five Resolutions for Happier, Healthier Scientists

Turning over the last page of the calendar seems to naturally invite some reflection on the previous 365 days. When you look back at 2017, what went well? And what do you wish you could change in the coming year?

This week, we take the opportunity to reflect back much farther – to our days in graduate and postdoctoral training!  With years of hindsight, we offer advice and perspective to the scientists we were, and devise some resolutions you can adopt in your scientific training.

Read More

077: Google Discovers Five Keys to a Productive Lab

Google is data-obsessed, so it should come as no surprise that the company sought to apply its analytical expertise inside the organization.

In an endeavor dubbed “Project Aristotle,” Google sought to answer a vexing question: What factors are important for a successful, productive team?

Their findings may have profound impacts not just at Google, but in a lab near you…

Read More

negative postdoc criticism

073: Stop Telling Me My Project is Going to Fail!

Is your lab is filled with compassionate, positive individuals who offer nurturing support and gentle guidance to help you achieve your full potential as a scientist?

We didn’t think so.

While you may encounter a handful of Positive Pollyannas throughout your career, you’re also likely to run into a few Negative Nancys. Rather than encouraging you to keep trying when an experiment fails, they’ll take every opportunity to throw shade on your emerging research project.

Everyone’s A Critic

This week, we heard from Amygdala (not her real name…), who was getting nothing but discouragement from one of the postdocs in her lab.  She writes:

There is a postdoc in my lab who is tangentially involved in the project that I’m working on. This postdoc has extremely negative views regarding the project. This negative view spans from the amount of time it takes to train animals on this task to the variable results that we get with each animal, etc. While I agree about some points that this postdoc is making and that there is always room from improvement, it’s hard for me to not get down about this project. I’m the one directly training the animals and obtaining the results. Given that training animals takes 6 days a week and at least four hours each day, I’m trying to remain positive and not think that I’ve wasted all of this time. My PI and the postdoc whose project this is remain positive and encouraging. However, the tangentially-involved postdoc is someone who I interact more frequently with.

This is a very long-winded way of asking: How does one remain positive regarding their own project while still showing respect to other people’s views regarding the project? And is it appropriate for people to comment negatively on other people’s projects?

We address her concerns and offer some (hopefully) helpful advice for dealing with negativity from your lab mates.

Cloudy Waters

For Science in the News, Josh celebrates Healthy and Safe Swimming Week with a story about Cryptosporidium in pool water.  It’s a serious water-borne illness that you can prevent by not drinking where you swim.

Or you can get YOUR test strips today!

We also try an unfiltered sour beer from Sierra Nevada.  It’s the Otra Vez Gose-Style Ale brewed with cactus and grapefruit.  

Since the trendy flavors have shifted from intensely bitter IPAs to intensely sour Goses, we predict the next big hit will be beers that taste like cigarette butts and cat urine!

And soon after that, the hipsters will complain about those flavors being ‘mainstream.’ Sigh…

071: Practical Advice for Overcoming Imposter Syndrome with Dr. Maureen Gannon

Imposter syndrome might make you feel all alone in the world, but ironically, many graduate students, postdocs, and faculty members experience the same feelings of inadequacy.

This week on the show, we interview Dr. Maureen Gannon, PhD, about the sources of imposter feelings and the practical steps you can take to work through them.

By every objective measure, Dr. Gannon’s career has been an unqualified success.  She went from private high school through a Masters degree with full scholarships, finishing her undergraduate training in just three years.  She completed a PhD at Cornell and is now a tenured faculty member at Vanderbilt University with appointments in several departments. She leads and chairs multiple organizations and committees, and is invited to speak internationally about her work.

And yet, for much of her training, Dr. Gannon didn’t feel successful.  She sometimes attributed her personal wins to outside forces or good luck. She wondered when others would discover her shortcomings as a scientist.

Then, she attended a workshop that put a name to the feelings: imposter phenomenon.  With the name came a realization that many of her peers were experiencing the same thing.

Now, she speaks to students, faculty, and professional groups about her experience of overcoming imposter syndrome and getting on with her career.

In this episode, Dr. Gannon shares some of the common triggers for imposter feelings and the steps you can take to work through them.

Here are the books and resources she recommends:

Take the test yourself: The Clance Imposter Scale

The Impostor Phenomenon: Overcoming the Fear That Haunts Your Success

The Secret Thoughts of Successful Women: Why Capable People Suffer from the Impostor Syndrome and How to Thrive in Spite of It

Creative Visualization: Use the Power of Your Imagination to Create What You Want in Your Life

Man vs. Machine

Science in the News brings us another reminder that computers are going to take our jobs.  This week, machine learning algorithms outperform human doctors on predicting which patients will suffer from heart disease.

Now, when the robots rise up to kill us, they’ll be able to make it look like ‘an accident.’

We also sample a tropical ethanol with the Big Wave Golden Ale from Kona Brewing. It’s not clear why this allegedly Hawaiian beer was featured on a cruise in the Caribbean, but it’s best not to argue.  Any port in a storm, as they say…

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