Friday, July 31, 2009

Back at it

This has been a really great but unusual week (which I will write more about later).

I've been out of the lab half the week, and yet somehow my desk managed to descend into utter chaos... Stupid entropy!

I've also been getting in late half the week and heading out early (or not getting up early and having to rush out), so I haven't had time to complete a blog post that was comprehensible. I started one, but it became a terminal off-pathway product that had to be degraded.

My to-do list for today and the weekend:
  • finish experiment without more samples committing suicide
  • make sure minion's stuff is organized in such a way that I can find it later (as he will be leaving in a week)
  • complete arts-and-crafts portion of notebook keeping
  • work to overcome entropy of the desk
  • write paragraph for training grant
  • figure out what the hell needs to get done and set deadlines
  • decide which experiments are most urgent to complete prior to shutting down cell culture for the lab move
  • organize my downloads folder
  • backup data from computers

Friday, July 24, 2009

Getting my fix

I get to go to a conference this weekend!!!!!

I'm almost as excited as when I was a kid and my family was heading to Disney World. It's been 2 years since I attended a meeting-too long.

A few things are making this conference different than any other I've attended before:
  • It's in the city I live so I don't have to travel.
  • I'm not presenting and my boss isn't paying so this is for the pure pleasure of science.
  • I will not know a single other soul there-unless I happen to see someone from PSU and even then it won't be someone I know well-making this a fantastic opportunity to workout those 'networking' skillz.
  • It's completely unrelated to what my postdoc lab studies (although some of the talks are peripherally related to what I specifically am doing).
I attended this organizations meeting twice in grad school, as it was of broader interest to my graduate work. It's kind of like I studied sea monkeys* as a grad student and this meeting encompasses various Artemia and Crustacea, and now I'm in a field that studies the friggin' lakes and oceans that establish the context in which sea monkeys exist. And so I am often dazed and confused during talks I attend at BRI (sometimes because of the material, sometimes because of its presentation), and I am just looking forward to hearing about Artemia because I can follow, understand, and be stimulated.

And then there's always the free booze.

* Just so we're clear I did not nor do I currently study sea monkeys or anything remotely related to arthropods or oceans. Certainly it's not the best analogy I could come up with, and I'm fine with that.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Balancing act, Part 2

Some time after posting my take on balance in science I realized that:
  • it might come off a little preachy, for lack of a better word
  • some of my intentions may not have been very clear
  • and I just have more to say on the matter
Here are the major points from the previous post:
  • Balance is about fulfillment and renewal in four areas: physical, spiritual, mental, social/emotional
  • Many scientists (and people, in general) lack balance in their lives
  • Working longer hours does not necessarily mean you're achieving more
  • You can find ways to make time for what's truly important to you
These are hard lessons to learn. I know because I've been there and spent plenty of time banging my head against a wall. What I say here is based on my experiences and observations.

In graduate school, you probably are going to have to spend more time in the lab in order to be productive, especially the first couple of years. Whether you're coming straight out of undergrad or you've been working in industry for a few years, there is so much to learn and to do-classes, research, writing, etc. Even if you did research as an undergrad or worked in a lab afterwards, the way you approach research in grad school is completely different. Essentially you have to be retrained. And that means you're going to screw stuff up and have to futz around to figure out how to get things to work sometimes-which means more time in the lab.

If you pay attention, though, you may eventually realize how much time is lost with general screwing around. How often do you check your email? Do you respond immediately to every email-whether it's work or personal, whether it will take 15 s or 20 min to write a response? How much time do you spend on Facebook or blogs (ironic, I know) or other completely unrelated crap? How much time do you lose trying to figure out what you're going to do today? Was there something you could have done yesterday to expedite your experiments today?

During my last year of grad school, I recognized some HUGE time sinks, and I began making adjustments to reduce their size. I began planning out experiments at least a couple of days, if not a week, in advance. This gave me an immediate focus each day, so that I wasn't spending the first hour or so deciding what to do and how to do it. Plus, because I knew what I was doing tomorrow or later in the week, I could do the tedious, time-consuming, but oh-so-essential prep work (i.e. labeling tubes, making buffers, setting up calculations) a day or more ahead, saving only the time-sensitive prep work for the day of the experiment. Another small thing that pulled some time out of the abyss: Not reading my email until after I had initiated an experiment. Some days I wouldn't even open my computer for an hour or two after I got to the lab. Even if I did check my email, it was to see if there were any messages from Bear, his admin, or my department that would require immediate response and/or action. Otherwise it could wait in my inbox until I had a break in my experiment.

Making these adjustments to my day allowed me to accomplish more in a less time. I realized that spending one less hour in the lab a day (to make time for non-science things) would not derail my research if I used my time appropriately. During the last 8 or so months of grad school, I was taking off early one day a week to go gym climbing with a friend. It was a great (and very much needed) stress reliever. And I was still productive. I generated more than half the data for a manuscript during that time, despite also writing a massive review, a dissertation, and spending almost a month away from the lab not working on anything science-related*.

Some labs/departments/institutes create a culture that implies if you're not spending 60/70/80 hours a week in the lab, you're not a 'serious' scientist. Sometimes individuals convince themselves that they can't have a life outside of the lab AND a productive, successful career at the same time. This is total bullshit. And just so we're clear, I'm not the only one who feels this way, and there are examples of successful scientists who don't work inhuman hours.

Granted, if you show up to work at 10, leave at 4, and take 2 hours for lunch and coffee breaks, then you probably should reconsider your career options. But working 8 productive hours a day does not mean you're a bad scientist. It means you're an efficient and organized scientist and that you've learned some lessons that some people never do. Sometimes you will have to work extra hours due to the nature of the experiment, an impending grant/manuscript revision, or bad luck. You may have to reduce the time spent on certain extracurricular activities (like Facebook or blogs or TV), but you can make time for the things you deem truly important.

For me, starting a postdoc has been a lot like starting grad school again. New city, new people, new lab, new project. It's taken a few months to equilibrate and to remember and apply the lessons learned in grad school, but I'm working on it. And already I'm happier for it. Now if you'll excuse me, it's time to head to the lab.

* Of that time away, only one week was planned and spent doing something that I really wanted/enjoyed doing. Taking a month off from science a few months before defending your dissertation is not something I would recommend. The point is that, if necessary, it can be done if you make the most of your time in the lab.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009


There are few things more disappointing than having an experimental plan that you're motivated and ready to get done, getting into lab early to get rolling on it, and then to find that supplies you need from the common stock are completely depleted. Grrr.

Balancing act

It had been quite some time since I wrote a formal mission statement. This may seem absurd or hokey or whatever to many people, but I am much more focused and productive when I have some clear idea of what, where, and who I want to be, even if it’s not entirely clear how I’m going to get there. Having experienced some significant events and reached some major goals (i.e. completing Ph.D. and starting a postdoc at a highly reputable institute) I realized it was past time to reevaluate my mission. During the process of writing my mission statement early yesterday morning, I realized some important things about myself and my goals-things that I probably knew all along but had never really expressed and that reaffirmed my choices thus far.

I used this mission statement builder to focus and guide the process. One of the modules addresses balance, which they define as "a state of fulfillment and renewal in each of the four dimensions: physical, spiritual, mental, and social/emotional." I've been thinking this morning about balance-and the lack thereof-in the lives of grad students and postdocs.

I've attended these 'women in science' panel discussions (by choice) a couple of times-you know, the ones where four or five female PIs at the university are put in a room with a bunch of female grad students, postdoc, and junior faculty to discuss the challenges of being successful as a woman in science (I have more to say on this topic, but I'll save it for another post). Inevitably the discussions digress into the family-work life balance issue: When should I have kids? How do you balance your family and career? And so on.

Here's the thing: Life is a balancing act, with or without kids. I'm not saying that children don't change/complicate the mix. But life is about balance. And balance is something that many folks in science seem to lack, and I would wager this is the major-if not sole-cause of burnout in science. I harken back to my conversation with Ronald. On occasion in our conversations, I will mention heading to the gym or going for a run during the work week, and Ronald will comment as to how he would love to do that but work takes up too much time.


I love science. I think about it a lot. I enjoy being in the lab. BUT I need other things too. I need to keep myself in good physical condition. I make time for it because when I feel good, I can work longer hours (as necessary), and I am more productive during the hours I work because I'm not run down and thinking about how terrible I feel. My husband and I reinitiated a regimented schedule this week. It means being up before the chickens, but it's working. I've already put in 20 productive hours in 2 days, well on my way to 50+ for the week. And I've still gotten out of work early enough to have time for a quick dinner, a workout, and some quiet meditation time before heading to bed early to get enough sleep to start again the next day.

Not everyone would like my schedule. Different people have different temperaments. I get that. But if you want to be happy and successful, you damn well better figure out how to make time for things other than science while still being productive in the lab.

I'll step down off my soapbox now.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

A brief personal attack

Why did I decide it was a good idea to do this many samples at one time?

I occasionally have these moments in the middle of big experiments, but then I survive. And so do most of the samples-all of them today. And I realize that I did it to get it done. Now I can spend the next two weeks processing and analyzing.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Resources for the frugal lab

Obviously budget issues are on most PIs' and lab managers' minds these days. Here are a few resources for the budget-conscious lab:

This biotech company is in the business of immuno-based assays: ELISAs, FACS, antibodies for Westerns. They don't have quite the inventory of antibodies for cell signaling as some of the other companies, but their products generally cost less than other vendors. Quality seems to be on par with other companies like BD. I've used one of their ELISA MAX kits and was very impressed with the sensitivity. Tech support has been prompt and courteous. Also they are also competing like mad. You can request free samples of antibodies to try for your application. They are also negotiating discounts with non-profit research organizations. Not the 1% or 3% discount if you order ridiculous quantities of product like some companies are offering, but substantial meaningful discounts if you get your department or institute on board.

DSHB (Developmental Studies Hybridoma Bank) was created by NIH "to bank and distribute hybridomas and the monoclonal antibodies (MAbs) they produce to the general scientific community in order to facilitate research" (per DSHB mission statement). For nonprofit institutes, antibodies and hybridomas from DSHB are about 1/10 of the cost you would pay a vendor. If an antibody works well for you, in many cases you can get the hybridoma for at or under $250. For comparison, ATCC charges about $400.

Addgene is a nonprofit organization for plasmid sharing. Researchers deposit plasmids from their publications at no cost. Then any other nonprofit/academic lab can request the plasmids from Addgene at a cost of $45 to $65 per plasmid (depending on the quantity ordered) and $20 shipping within the US ($45 internationally).

Although not a vendor, this is a great resource if you're studying cell signaling in human cell lines or if you're doing immunohistochemistry (IHC) in human tissues. The Protein Atlas is an extension of the Swedish Human Proteome Resource (HPR). As part of this program, HPR has validated numerous antibodies (commercial and academic) for various applications. Search by protein name or gene ID, and you'll get a summary of antibodies validated for IHC, immunofluorescence, protein array and Western blots. If the antibodies crap, they'll tell you. If it's pretty good, they provide images for Westerns. For several proteins, they also provide expression profiles (from IHC or IF) in normal tissues, cancer tissues, and immortalized cell lines; they even provide images of staining.

Know of other sites for the budget savvy lab? Leave a comment with a site address.

Time saving resources for the OCD researcher

I swear that the longer I stay in science, the more OCD (in the lab) I become. Everything has it's place. The bench generally has to be restored to its natural order before I leave for the day. Freezer boxes are organized and reorganized to be sure things are relatively easy to find. Detailed TOC are updated every few weeks for lab notebooks. Papers of interest are filed after reading. And so on and so forth.

The biggest challenge is figuring out how to keep track of reagents (where they came from, where they're stored, etc.) and filing protocols and recipes so that they're easy to access. I've tried doing the Excel spreadsheets for tracking where I've stored reagents. I've tried creating tables to detail critical information for reagents, plasmids, and oligos. They work-to the extent that one keeps them updated. This is also a problem for labs I've worked in.I have yet come up with a solution that keeps all this information centralized.

Turns out someone else already has. LabLife is an online resource that is free for academic organizations. Much of the software I've used in science has felt like it was created by software engineers who have never seen a lab and never used the software for its intended application; LabLife feels like it was created by scientists.

LabLife has entry forms for the most common reagents used in bio labs-proteins, antibodies, mice, flies, oligos, plasmids, worms, yeast, chemicals, viruses, cell lines, supplies, etc. The fields on the entry forms actually make sense! And the setup is orders of magnitude more user friendly than any other inventory management software I've encountered to date. Input a plasmid sequence, and the site automatically generates a map with ORFs, resistance cassettes, restrictions sites, priming sites. You can attach PDF, JPEG, PNG, or GIF files to any entry. Once you've created a material, you can store it in boxes you create. For storage, you can modify the format of the box (from 4 up to 24 rows/columns), the temperature, and location in the lab; you can also modify aliquots to reflect concentrations/passage number and the date stored. You can also store protocols and recipes on the site. LabLife also allows you to create a group (i.e. a lab) so you can share information. You can share data but keep it private for your lab. Lab managers can inventory equipment with pertinent information about warranties, maintenance info and more. I don't have experience with the lab functionality yet, but what I've experience of LabLife so far is brilliant.


Another resource I started using this year: iPapers2.

iPapers is a file management tool for all those PDF journal articles sitting on your hard drive. If you change the file names to match the PubMed ID (you know that PMID number at the bottom of the AbstractPlus), then you can just drag the files into the iPapers library and iPapers will pull the reference information from PubMed. You can also link additional files to a record, such as files for supplemental material. You can also search PubMed directly from iPapers, but I don't use this feature very much. You can export entries for reference management software such as Endnote.

The major disadvantage to iPapers is the use of PMID as the filename-it's not required but does make it easier with regard to importing information. Also there seems to be a glitch that causes it to randomly quit, but I haven't lost any information on those occasions. The other drawback is for Windows users; this program requires Mac OS X.

A huge advantage of iPapers (especially for a poor postdoc or grad student): It's FREE! Other PDF management software runs $40+ for a license. Also I find it much easier and faster to search and use than attaching PDF files to Endnote records, which was previous management method.


If you're info OCD like myself, check out these resources. And leave a comment to let me (and the other person reading this blog) what you think.

Thursday, July 16, 2009


Oh sweet relief. Guru is so swamped with other meetings/grants/etc. that I am spared the usual Friday torture.

Today when my undergrad wanted me to tell him-excuse me, 'remind' him-how to do the super simple procedure (which he had done more than once), I responded with a polite version of 'You should know how the hell to do this.' I think it probably pissed him off, but I'm kind of feeling that 'I ain't yo' mama' attitude. I'm done with coddling-and I'm quite pleased with myself.

Thanks to a colleague, I learned the solution to an access to resources problem I encountered this week. The problem was caused by a big pile of bureaucratic crap, but at least I now know the problem and the solution.

I am finally (mostly) recovered from my summer cold. And looking forward to another jam-packed, busy ass week next week.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

What we both need to do

Warning: Although not completely a bitchfest, this post contains some material that could be construed as ranting and/or general bitching.

There are some things you just don't think until you experience them. I have an undergrad for the summer. We're a little over halfway through his tenure at BRI. It has been a learning experience for me-partly in realizing some of the things that drive me insane. Here are a few lessons for students new to research.

Note: For the following bullets, the second person personal pronouns (i.e. you, your) refer to the trainee and the first person personal pronouns (i.e. I, me, my) refer an individual in an advising/supervisory capacity, namely me.

1. Drop the slang. 'Yo' is not an appropriate salutation, nor is 'word' a proper signal for 'I understand and will get to work on that'. You would not address the PI in such a manner (at least I hope you have enough sense not to), and I ask that you afford me a similar (if not equal) level of respect. I may not be much older, but I have two more degrees than you, and you are more or less working for me.

2. This ain't your gen chem lab. It doesn't matter how well you did in your undergrad lecture courses or if you aced all your lab reports. Work in a research lab sans detailed manual is a different beast entirely. Although there are plenty of egos in science (including mine), they have (despite my previous rant) generally earned their place. Yours hasn't, so please check it at the door.

3. Re-learn dimensional analysis* and units. I understand that it may have been a while since you did molarity concentrations and dilution series, especially if you're taking courses with a more biological slant.** That being said, after a week or so of working in a lab, doing such calculations almost daily, you should be able to do these independently. It may take you more time than it takes me. You might have to write everything out longhand. That's fine, but you should be able to do it. If you get an answer that doesn't make sense, more than likely it's a problem with your units or conversion, not because 'it doesn't work when you do it that way'. It does work--check your math.

*If you're going to stay in science or medicine, this is one of the most important concepts you will ever use.

**Could everyone just get on board with the whole molar system? Do you realize how irritating it is to translate pg/ml and mg/kg when you're trying to compare two compounds directly? There are a few rare instances where there are legitimate reasons to base measurements on mass. I know I'm fighting a losing battle.

4. Read the protocol carefully and do as it says. You're not always going to get a nice, detailed procedure written up as if it came out of one of your lab manuals in undergrad (refer back to #2). On the occasion that you do, read it-yes, the whole thing-and follow it.

5. Record and repeat. Research is often about repetition-repeating experiments, repeating protocols, etc. Memory recall for most humans is pretty murky. You should record a procedure in great detail in your lab notebook the first time you do it. When you are asked to do that same procedure again (either with the same or different material), refer back to that procedure in your notebook. I don't mind reviewing a procedure or 'reminding' you of a detail the second go-round. I am, however, going to start getting irritated when you ask me the same questions or leave out a crucial component the 3rd and Nth (where N>3) time.

6. Listen to the words coming out of my mouth-and apply them. I know that sometimes I may ramble or think out loud. However, when I'm giving you specific instructions, pay attention, especially when such instructions are in the form "Make sure you _______".

7. Research is the application of knowledge. Meaning you should apply things that you already know. When you ask me a question to which you should be able to determine the answer if you think about it for more than a microsecond, then I'm going to play dumb (especially when you're participating in a competitive undergrad summer program at BRI). This also means that you should understand the basic concepts behind an experiment, not just a list of actions. If you've never learned it before, I will teach you.

8. Except in cases of emergencies--If I am intently working on what appears to be a potentially complicated task, wait for me to acknowledge your presence before talking to me. If you have set the lab on fire, spilled a large amount of a toxic or corrosive chemical, or initiated the next Chernobyl, by all means, interrupt me-my experiment doesn't mean much if either one of us is at risk of injury or death. HOWEVER, if you want to know whether you should use the Teletubby purple tubes or the Tarheel blue tubes (or some question of similar urgency), be patient. I'm not ignoring you just to be rude. If you're concerned that I have not seen you hovering nearby, at least wait until I have set down my pipette/tube/whatever happens to be in my hand at the time.

9. Respect my personal space. You may not have a problem with people being close enough to hear their breathing. I do. If you can't hear me, ask me to speak up. If you have trouble seeing something, I can hand you the tube. I like my space. I get uncomfortable and irritable when I don't get it. Take a step back. Thank you.


I've learned some important things about myself and my style, as well. In grad school, I supervised first year grad students on rotations, taught postdocs and other grad students techniques, and even had a summer undergrad. However, I didn't think about my role so much. Here are some things I need to do for future trainees.

1. Establish my expectations. Perhaps some of the points above are not intuitive and perhaps I did not spell them out clearly. As a supervisor/mentor, it is in my best interest (and the trainee's) to clearly define my expectations for the project and the trainee at the outset.

2. Provide a lesson in 'good laboratory practice' (GLP). Most students do not know how to keep a lab notebook. Hell, a lot of postdocs don't know how to keep a lab notebook. What information should you record? A large volume of data is saved on computers these days-how do you link data on a computer to an experiment in your notebook? Tubes are small; you can't fit all the information on the cap/side-how do you ensure that you (and those wishing to use your materials after your departure) track the pertinent information? Record keeping is just one aspect of GLP. There's also safety, ethics... dimensional analysis :) Taking a few hours to cover this in detail at the beginning of a rotation would probably save me a lot of time in the long run.

3. Be more direct and less passive-aggressive. Or, in other words, voice my problems/concerns directly instead of getting pissed off and venting to Paramed and the blogosphere. This is a HUGE issue for me. Perhaps part of it comes from my Southern upbringing, the idea that I should be polite. Perhaps part of it derives from me not wanting to come off as an asshole. Either way I need to work on this. Otherwise I will end up like Bear, bitching at people that I'm not actually irritated with for things that I'm not really pissed off about.

4. Review the project after there has been some time for the information to sink in. The first few days/weeks on a new project (especially if it's your first research experience) can be overwhelming. There's a lot of information to absorb on both a practical and conceptual level. After you've gotten your feet wet, I should go over the objectives and the techniques of the project with you to make sure you know what you're doing.

Of course, I have much more to learn about being an adviser or mentor, but this is a start.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Why Ronald doesn't want a lab... and why I'm confused

The weather has been entirely too beautiful to be cooped up in a lab all day. That’s not to say I’ve been scientifically unproductive. I’ve spent quite some time in a quiet, tree-laden area of little park writing specific aims for a fellowship proposal and thinking about what experiments to do in the next few months to gather necessary preliminary data. I rather enjoyed it. There must be something wrong with me.

This causes me to reflect upon a conversation with a couple of postdocs earlier this week. The question arose as to whether one of them, who I will call Ronald, wanted his own lab. I had assumed that Ronald did indeed want to run his own lab. This is not due to a perception that every postdoc at BRI intends to start his or her own lab. Nor do I feel that not starting your own lab means you’re a failure (as some scientists I’ve known do feel). Rather from my previous conversations with Ronald, I had the impression that he intended to return to his homeland and set up his own lab there.

I was wrong. In this conversation, he indicated the opposite. It seems that he’s not opposed to the idea in principle, but he gave two reasons why he would not be a PI.

His first reason was—his words, not mine—he doesn’t write well enough. This one I get right off the bat. I think one of the fundamental rules of science is: Interesting results (and by association the hard work it took to get them) are meaningless unless you can communicate them. Perhaps, in principle, results should speak for themselves. But you’re dealing with people, and people need to hear more. The success of a lab is hinges upon the ability of the PI to explain, in writing, the work his or lab is doing and why people should be excited about it. Perhaps it is possible to learn this skill, but I get the feeling that some people don’t see the need or simply don’t want to.

His second reason was he wants a life outside of the lab, and as a PI, he couldn’t have that. This I didn’t understand at first, and even as I’ve thought about it, I still don’t get it. My first thought was: That’s not true. My second: Maybe I have a skewed idea of what life outside the lab should be. My next: What the does that even mean? Which is where I’m at now.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Maybe I do have ESPN

Some of my requests spouted to the universe are actually being answered.

The sun has spent much more time with us in the past week. It was gorgeous today and promises to be so this weekend--and I'm not going to be spending that time in the lab :)

My cells that were going through their adolescent stage of "No, I don't want to" are behaving quite well now.

And, perhaps the biggest of all, Bear has submitted the next to last manuscript I need to publish from his lab. Just one more to go...

Thursday, July 9, 2009

The last productive Friday

After a very productive early part of the week, the mid/late part of the week has fallen flat, owing mostly to the brain-fogging cold/cold medications. And my undergrad has returned from his mini-vacation. (Don't get me wrong. It's kind of fun having a minion working on a mini-project that I would be doing eventually, but it also means planning for two and often working even longer hours to finish my work that couldn't get done because I was supervising the minion.)

And tomorrow promises to be the last opportunity for a highly productive Friday for months.

In my postdoc lab, Fridays are notoriously unproductive days, mostly through no fault of my own--and I'm not the only one who feels that way. I am sure that in many labs, Fridays are typically less productive--people are winding down from a busy week, maybe leaving earlier than they would any other day of the week. In my graduate lab, we had a one-hour journal club (which included lunch), and half the group was cleared out before 5 on Friday.*
But the current situation is in a different class. In my postdoc lab, we have group meeting on Friday mornings. Generally I am not opposed to group meetings and, in fact, think they are important (more on that later). The problem is our group meetings are THREE HOURS LONG! I had never heard nor conceived such a thing before I arrived at BRI. There is little time to setup or perform experiments before the meeting (unless you arrive at the butt crack of dawn). The meeting rarely ever starts on time.** The first 20+ minutes are devoted to budget, administrative, and general lab issues. Then the data fest begins. About 5 people present each week, but there is no time constraints, so people are free to ramble (and ramble some do) for as long as they like... for THREE HOURS.
By the time nearly 3 hours worth of data (typically with little or no background or introduction) has passed in front of me, I'm exhausted, and my brain is toast. And it's time for lunch. After lunch, it's time to write up a TPS report. By the time I take care of my children--er, cells--the day is almost gone. And I'll be damned if I'm going to start a multi-hour experiment late Friday afternoon (as Friday and Sunday evenings are the only weekend I have with Paramed).
My current boss, Guru, has been on vacation for the past 2 weeks. So we've had a blessed break from the tedium. Guru returns next week, so back to the drudgery.
I'll just have to make the most of my last productive Friday until the boss leaves again.

*Granted, it usually pissed off Bear, but being the passive-aggressive creature he is, he wouldn't say anything about it. Instead I (or some other unfortunate soul in his path) would get to endure a snarky remark or acidic 'conversation', despite/because of the fact that I was still there at 4:30 on a Friday.

**This is a huge pet peeve. And nothing at BRI starts on time.
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Wednesday, July 8, 2009

In which our heroine receives her just rewards

Today I learned that my alternative Independence Day celebration was not all for naught. In fact, the results are quite nice: differences where one would hope--I mean, hypothesize--to see them, things in experimental samples that aren't in the appropriate negative controls, even a dose response. Oh happy day.

Science rocks.

Now I'm off to try to recover from the summer cold given to me by my dear spouse.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Face time

In addition to venting and general bitchfests, I want to use this blog as a forum to define and clarify my thoughts about running a lab and mentoring students. Granted, it will be a few years before I can apply many of my ideas, but I figure it's not too early to begin considering them. Admittedly I could do this privately, but then I would deprive Comrade PhysioProf of one more blogger to heckle.
Today's issue: Face time. Or the age old question:
If a trainee is in the lab but the PI isn't, was the trainee really there?

My experience thus far is that despite what an adviser may say about how the number of hours you work or when you work isn't as important as what you accomplish, he (or she) usually does pay attention to how much you're there, when you get in, when you leave. You might earn a snarky comment if, in the eyes of your PI, you are not spending enough time in lab--even though in reality, you might be there just as much as your colleagues who keep the boss's hours.
It is an issue of perception. I understand that it is impossible for a PI to know who is in the lab every minute of every day (unless he installs a webcam... or maybe those ankle bracelets they use for people under house arrest). However, shouldn't a PI consider that some people work better at other times of the day? If a trainee can provide results, or at least an account of what he or she has been doing in the PI's absence, should the trainee be given the benefit of the doubt? I am of the mind that you should go to lab, get to work, and when you've finished your work, leave. Should a postdoc really sit around in the lab for an extra hour, killing time with email or blogging or YouTube just to appease the PI? I'd rather know that when someone's in the lab, they're actually working, not just goofing off.

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Because someone will steal the microwave, right?


As if it's not bad enough to be the only one in the building, I discover that someone decided to it would be fun to close and lock doors to common spaces, such as...

A lab equipment room...

And the lunch room.

The lab equipment room, I can handle. I can access similar equipment elsewhere in the lab, just not my favorite.

But the lunch room? Do they have any idea how dangerous it is to deprive a postdoc access to legal drug options? Looks like I'm going out for lunch and caffeine.

Update: Turns out someone got locked out accidentally with very important things (i.e. ID and passport) locked in. She is supposed to fly out of the country tomorrow. And evidently only one person has a key to the room. He is incommunicado--and has been for two days. So much for emergency contacts.

Sometimes I wish were a slacker

Case in point: The weather is fabulous for the first time in weeks. It's a Saturday and a national holiday to boot. It's a day for cookouts, fireworks, or hiking with friends.

And I am alone in the lab starting an experiment that's going to take all friggin' day. Stupid postdoc.

Friday, July 3, 2009

Post-graduation publishing

FSP put up a post yesterday about loose ends. She starts:
It is in the best interests of advisers and graduate students that students graduate in a timely way and move on to another scientific (or other) adventure, but in some cases a 'timely way' means that a student leaves before completing all the things that need completing (i.e., papers).
She goes on to describe the scenarios she has encountered with regard to how her students have dealt with publications post-graduation. From her comments, the majority of these students either have little time or little interest to complete and submit the manuscripts, which has to be extraordinarily frustrating. She points out that, as adviser, she can finish writing the paper in some circumstances. To some extent, she potentially still has some leverage with former students--if they want to maintain a good relationship with their Ph.D. adviser or use her as a reference for future jobs.

What do you do when it's the adviser holding up the publications?

I realize there are situations when an adviser delays submission of a publication for legitimate reasons, among which I would include:
  • there is insufficient data
  • data is not reproducible
  • there are not appropriate controls
  • another experiment or two could boost the work to a higher tier journal
However, there are times when the reasons for delay are not so obvious and/or rational. Among these, I have observed:
  • the adviser is "extremely busy" and doesn't make time to review a manuscript, so it sits on his desk for months, untouched
  • the adviser has lost interest in the project
  • the adviser is convinced that there's "just one more" experiment that needs to be done to unveil the mechanism behind the phenomenon--he just doesn't know what it is... or it's not feasible given the available technology
I know of manuscripts from former postdocs and students that have been in my Ph.D. adviser's possession for 5 to 10 years. I think some he has no intention of ever publishing, even though there is sufficient data for a manuscript, and no one has worked on the project for years. Maybe it would have to go to a lower tier journal, but isn't it better to publish a small paper in a lower tier journal than to not publish at all? Several key papers that are constantly cited in my grad research area were published in what we would consider "low tier" journals... and some of those authors are now Nobel laureates.

I understand that ultimately it is the PI's prerogative what and when and where he or she publishes. But as FSP points out, this isn't just about the PI's career, but the trainee's as well. A trainee can't submit without the PI, and the trainee has no leverage to force the PI to publish--other than persistently barraging the PI with inquiries about the manuscripts in question.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Possibly, probably fantasy

Been there. Somedays, still there.

And, as Paramed just pointed out, when I have my own lab, I'll be the one causing the angst--at least one can hope...

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Authorship issues

I don't recall ever having a formal discussion on this topic in graduate school, but I thought I had a reasonable idea of who should be listed as authors on a manuscript:
  • Individuals who contributed experimentally (i.e. conducted experiments or analyzed data)
  • Individuals who made significant intellectual contributions to the project (i.e. conceived the project or conducted critical preliminary studies)
  • And, of course, PIs of the labs involved
However, recent events in my current lab (not related to my work) caused me to wonder if I might be missing something... or rather someone, I suppose. Namely does the contribution of a reagent entitle an individual to authorship? If it's the first time a reagent (or a method, for that matter) has been reported in the literature, then you should definitely be a coauthor. But at what point do you move from author list to acknowledgements?

While I'm on authorship questions: How useful is co-first authorship? I've received "second billing" co-first authorship on a couple of papers, but I realize it's important to have sole first author papers as well. When people read that co-first author paper, they may or may not read that footnote "These authors contributed equally to this work", and co-first authorship doesn't show up on PubMed--you're just another name. One PI/journal editor from my graduate program feels that co-first authorship is total crap--either your did the majority of the work or you didn't. Is co-first authorship really valid? How many ways can you split authorship before it becomes ridiculous?