It’s Monday morning and you arrive in lab a little late. No worries, you drop your tissue culture media into the warming bath, turn on the hood, and head down the hall while things ‘warm up.’
Next stop is the -80 freezer. You dig through the drifting piles of frost and snow, around the boxes of samples with labels that wore off ages ago, and find your quarry. You throw your weight into the door, and manage to get it latched – just barely – and head to the lab.
Once there, you dump yesterday’s gel buffer down the drain and start measuring out agarose and ethidium bromide for today’s experiments. With the gel poured, it’s finally time for coffee. Then maybe you’ll get around to splitting your cells.
It may be an easy morning for a cell biologist, but it was pretty rough on the planet. This week we explore some simple tweaks this busy scientist could make to be greener and more sustainable!
“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:
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.
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.