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007: From Quiet Lab to Super-Fab!

Some labs feel like a party – there’s music playing, post-docs chatting, and grad students running from bench to bench setting up experiments. But what if you land in a spot that feels more like a morgue than a living laboratory? Co-workers keep their eyes on their benches, every ear is covered by headphones, and you end up eating lunch alone in the break room.

Do you work in a quiet lab, or one where people gather around to point at your experiments?
The lab that does tissue culture together stays together. Or has a serious contamination problem. One of those two things.

Silence is Au

Working in a lab environment where everyone maintains monk-like vows of silence can be alienating, but it’s also bad for the science. Researchers who aren’t talking aren’t teaching or learning, and your training as a student or post-doc can really suffer.

“Quiet Lab Syndrome” was the problem we faced in this week’s episode. “Sue” (name changed to prevent her lab-mates from finding out they’re boring…) asked:

I just started in a research lab, and I have an issue. The lab I joined is super quiet. For most of the day, people just do their experiments, sit at their desks, focused on their computer screens, and there is very little conversation and communication. I’m new to the lab, so I’m finding it very difficult to learn about what’s going on, hear about people’s projects, etc since there is very little informal conversation going on. Not to mention, I feel a little jealous that some of my peers joined labs where people play music, go out for beers, and are generally pretty social with one another. I think the science is interesting, and I really like the PI, but the silence makes it difficult to pick up on things, and makes the lab generally a less pleasant place to be all day. What should I do?

We’ve got tips for understanding the cause of the quiet, and some advice for helping you break the ice.

Is there a doctor on the plane!?

Also in this episode, we talk about whether flaunting your PhD on hotel and airline reservations earns you better treatment. If you’ve ever put “Dr.” on the reservation and they rolled out the red carpet, let us know so we can exploit those businesses ourselves!

For ethanol, we enjoy the rich, caramel goodness of Samuel Smith’s Nut Brown Ale and discover both the violent and adorable origins of Toxoplasma gondii. Here’s a picture of the fuzzy little vector known as a Gundi.

If you are what you eat, this little critter must live on marshmallows and dandelion fluff!
If you are what you eat, this little critter must live on marshmallows and dandelion fluff!


Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking

Fireballs are another good option for dealing with critics.

006: Haters Gonna Hate; Dealing with Critics

It has happened to all of us: you finish a solid day of work at the bench,  and as you head out the door to your well-earned R&R, the PI catches you and lays on a speech about how you need to spend more time in lab.

Fireballs are another good option for dealing with critics.
Don’t try this at home… try it in lab! Cool explosions are the whole reason you became a scientist in the first place!

Everyone’s a critic

In one instant, all that confidence and satisfaction you felt goes up in flames like Parafilm in a Bunsen burner.

In this week’s episode, we tackle a tough question from a second-year grad student who is tired of colleagues, mentors, and family members sharing their opinions about how she should spend her time.  How can she, and YOU, deflect the criticism and stop the haters from stealing your joy?

Susie asks:

It seems like everyone, especially in a lab setting, has an opinion about how I should spend my time and resources. It shouldn’t bother me so much, but even after a great and busy day, an offhand comment about how I should be doing more/better/faster can make me feel kind of useless. How have you each learned to rise above questioning and perceived condescension from the people you work with, or even friends and family?

Before you even start that battle, we talk about how to make sure you can win it.  We’ll also give you tips about how to manage your PI’s expectations and find a work-life-balance that actually works for your life.


Make time for the things you love

Next, we hear from a grad student who wants to make time for science outreach and education opportunities, but doesn’t think his faculty mentor will support his time outside of the lab.  It’s another great example of finding the time to do the work you love while still pursuing solid laboratory training.

Shawn writes:

One of the many things I want to continue to do during grad school is to volunteer and become part of outreach programs. I acknowledge I am going to have a lot on my plate very soon , but I still want to volunteer and continue doing some form of work that likens the after-school teaching I was doing [during my undergrad]. Is it feasible to find time for outreach while in graduate school?


Getting smart

Finally, Daniel gets some scientific support for his acerbic sense of humor, and we put another punch on our “Frequent Hipster” cards with the Pinner Throwback IPA from Oskar Blues.  It’s a healthy dose of hops with a side of sarcasm.  Delicious!

This week’s resources and references:

Micrographia on Wikipedia
Gutenberg Project Ebook of Micrographia

2002 Letter from Mu-ming Poo to his lab:

To all lab members:

Over the past several months, it has become clear to me that if there is no drastic change in the lab, Poo lab will soon cease to be a productive, first-rate lab that you chose to join in the first place. Lab progress reports over the past six months have clearly shown the lack of progress in most projects. One year ago, when we first moved to Berkeley, I expressed clearly to everyone my expectation from each one in the lab. The most important thing is what I consider to be sufficient amount of time and effort in the lab work. I mentioned that about 60 hr working time per week is what I consider the minimal time an average successful young scientist in these days has to put into the lab work. There may be a few rare lucky fellows like Florian, who had two Nature papers in his sleeve already, can enjoy life for a while and still get a job offer from Harvard. No one else in the lab has Florian’s luxury to play around.

Thus I am imposing strict rules in the lab from now on:

  1. Every one works at least 50 hr a week in the lab (e.g., 8+ hr a day, six days a week). This is by far lower than what I am doing every day and throughout most of my career. You may be smarter or do not want to be as successful, but I am not asking you to match my time in the lab.
  1. By working, I mean real bench work. This does not include surfing on the computer and sending and receiving e-mails for non-scientific matters unrelated to your work (you can do this after work in the lab or at home), and excessive chatting on nonscientific matters. No long lunch break except special occasions. I suggest that everyone puts in at least 6 hr concentrated bench work and 2+ hr reading and other research-related activity each day. Reading papers and books should be done mostly after work. More time can be spent on reading, literature search and writing during working hours when you are ready for writing a paper.
  1. I must be informed in person by e-mail (even in my absence from the lab) when you are absent from the lab for a whole day or more. Inform me early your vacation plan. Taking more than 20 working days out of one year is the maximum to me. In fact, none of you are reporting any vacation and sick leave on your time sheet (against the university rule, although I have been signing the sheets), but you know roughly how many days you were not here.

On the whole, I understand and accept the fact that you may not fulfill the above requirements all the time, due to health reasons, occasional personal business. But if you do not like to follow the rules because it is simply a matter of choice of life style, I respect your choice but suggest you start making plans immediately and leave the lab by the end of January 31. I will do my best to help you to locate a lab to transfer or to find a job.

If you do accept the conditions I describe above, I am happy to continue to provide my best support to your work, hopefully more than I have done in the past. I will review the progress of everyone in the lab by the end of June of 2002. I expect everyone to have made sufficient progress in the research so that a good paper is in sight (at least to the level of J. Neuroscience). If you cannot meet this goal at that time, I will have to ask you to prepare to leave my lab by the end of August.

Now to try PLOS One!

005: Perfecting Peer Review

Scientists are supposed to be objective, so why is it easier to publish your paper when you’re in a big-name lab?  Why do women and minorities get harsher feedback from reviewers than white men?  And more importantly, what can be done to make the process fair?

When Peer Review Attacks

In this episode, we uncover the seamy underbelly of paper publishing and take a look at some alternatives to the current system of peer review, including the recent move by Nature to make the process “Double Blind”.

Peer Review Godzilla
His paper exploring the societal impacts of resurrected monster-reptiles of the late Cretaceous period was rejected. Now to try PLoS ONE!

We’ll look at some of the early forms of scientific discourse and trace the evolution through time and technology, as well as identifying the unintended consequences of the current system.  Is it better to make the process open like PLoS ONE?  Would scientists benefit from an online collaboration tool that allowed discussion and feedback after publication?

Dan and Josh have different opinions about how to improve the process, so be sure to leave your feedback in the comments section or on our Facebook page.  How would you change the peer review system to improve scientific rigor, inclusiveness, and expand science’s impact on society?

Beer and Puzzles!

Moving from peer review to BEER review, we celebrate summer this week with the Fullsteam Summer Basil Farmhouse Ale and Daniel introduces a new puzzle form of the weekly word origin.  He’ll give you a phrase that contains a literal translation of the secret word, along with some hints to help you find it.  Your job is to guess the right word based on its meaning!

This week’s clue is:

This book, published by the Royal Society, must have contained very small handwriting.

If you think you know the answer, email it to by Thursday, August 6, 2015.  We’ll select a winner randomly from the correct answers and announce it on the next episode.  Happy Wording!



Here are some links to the papers and websites we mentioned in the show:

Nature Journals Offer Double-Blind Review
Lenny Teytelman’s rebuttal to Nature’s announcement
Hilda Bastion’s call for a stronger post-publication culture
PLOS One’s publication criteria
A great introduction to gender and racial bias at the university level
Race, Ethnicity, and NIH Research Awards
Double-blind review favours increased representation of female authors.
US and non-US submissions: an analysis of reviewer bias.
Peer-review practices of psychological journals: The fate of published articles, submitted again

Peer Review Monster by Gideon Burton

004: Why we podcast

What makes two PhDs who escaped from grad school years ago want to revisit all the highs and lows of their training?  Short answer: Beer!

But the long answer: Grad school is no cakewalk – classes are challenging, experiments fail, and sometimes, PIs seem like they’re from another planet. We made it through one day at a time, relying on regular conversations and scheming over a beer at the end of a long week.

Hello PhD is your chance to join those conversations and benefit from the experience of other scientists who have made their living in, and out of, the lab.  We want to help you take advantage of all of the great benefits of your science training experience, and avoid some of the mistakes and pitfalls.

When chromosomes throw a Sparkle Party.

In this episode, we’ll share the origins of the Hello PhD podcast and how Dan and Josh (your fearless hosts) first met.  We’ll also lay out some of our goals for the show and how you can get involved.

To celebrate our origins, we sample one of the beers that started us on the path to Hello PhD – the Top of the Hill Blueridge Blueberry Wheat.  It’s 64 ounces of blue-flavored goodness, with a couple of fresh berries dropped in for a surprise finish.

The last layer of our origin story is the word-origin of “chromsome.” Now that you understand the DNA of the podcast, you may as well know the DNA of the word used to describe DNA… It’s like an etymological Inception!

003: Should I take a new job or stay where I am?

You may like your job, your boss, and your co-workers, but what happens if a “Dream Job” lands in your lap? Should you leave the safety of your current gig to take a risk on something new?  What if it’s outside of the “norm” or in a slightly different field?

Stuff you do that people won't pay you for is called a "Hobby."  Those are fun too!
Stuff you love to do that people won’t pay you for is called a “Hobby.” Those are fun too!

The answer is rarely simple, but this week we give you some tips on finding your passion, and pursuing it throughout your career. There are a few things you can do today to improve your odds of finding that dream job and landing it when it comes along.

It won’t be easy.   There are some mental and emotional barriers to stepping into the unknown, but we talk about how to overcome them.  And don’t be surprised when your mentors and peers try to discourage you – they’re just projecting their own fears on you!

If you’ve ever faced the question “Should I take a new job?” send us an email and tell us about the options and how you made the decision – we’d love to share your experience on a future episode!

Also in this episode, we celebrate a Hello PhD milestone with a bottle of bubbly, share some love with the scientists who launched the New Horizons probe to Pluto, and uncover the controversial origins of the clavicle.  And you thought it was put there by osteoblasts!

If you’re interested in the IRACDA training program mentioned in this episode, you can find more information here.