Monday, March 14, 2011

all scientists matter. mmmkay?

The lack of posting lately has been due to....
Oh who gives a crap, I'm posting now right?

A few days ago, I had to top up my lab's supply of MilliQ water.  Basically our PI gives money to another lab, so we use their set up.  I noticed there was someone new who questioned me last time I was in there, so this time I made a point to talk to the person and introduce myself. 

I got her name and re-introduced myself as a person of so-and-so's lab, and I briefly explained the arrangement.  The usual question that comes up when you meet other people who are obviously looking after the lab is the "so are you one of the post-docs?"  She replied, "No, I'm just a tech." 

Now hold on a minute here. I've seen some varying levels as far as techs go.  I know a few labs "share" a tech who is a dish washer and media maker, but then there are other techs who are specifically hired on permanently to run HPLC and the like.  "Just a tech," doesn't always apply.
This tech was about ready to load some gradient gels, and she looked very involved with the lab and the research going on there (a glance at her laptop always has at least three excel spreadsheets open).  This person probably held a MSc degree or at least did a lot of research as an undergrad; I'm willing to bank on her having an MSc degree. 

I stopped her and said, "I just threw post-doc out there as a guess.  Techs are important too, ya know.  I'm just a lowly grad student." 
She stopped and smiled at me.  "Thanks." 
By the length of her pause and the genuine smile that she showed (crows feet showing, puffed up lower eyelids), I realized that my comment clearly affected her. 

Perhaps it's because I'm contemplating my own step "down" from a PhD degree to an MSc degree, but I've started looking at the hierarchy that exists, and I think sometimes people miss the boat.  A title doesn't guarantee that you're a good scientist.  I'm sure there are crap PhD's just as there are crap techs.  And there have to be awesome techs as well. 

And even the dish washer/ media-maker techs are important.  They keep other members of the lab moving quickly and efficiently, and I get annoyed that graduate students feel they can look down their noses at them.  Not everyone wants to run a lab or spend their life writing grants.  I'm one of them.  Maybe one day I'll be "just a tech" somewhere else.  But I'll be a damn good one.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Dare I say it....

The lack of posts have stemmed from the constant mental debate I've been having with myself.
Due to some personal reasons, I'm questioning whether or not I want/need to push through for the PhD or call it a day with a masters degree.  And no...the reasons do not include A) being pregnant or B) failing my qualifying exams as I haven't taken them yet.

A lot of it stems from my perspective on what I want to do once I leave grad school.  I've never wanted to go into academia and teach....and I know those jobs are difficult to get anyway.  I always figured I'd go in industry.  But, it has become more and more apparent that I don't need to run the show.  In fact, I'd rather not be the person staying up until 3am writing grant renewals.  In addition to this, sometimes focusing on a big picture isn't my forte.  I do enjoy problem solving or trouble shooting experiments....

So, much to the derision of some, I'm seriously wondering if busting my ass for the PhD is worth it...if really all I want is a simple technician job.  I still want to be heavily involved in science, but I don't think I want to drive the bus.  I'd rather be somewhere in the back, consulting the map and helping out when the driver gets lost.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Lab book hell

I always say I'm going to change.  I'm going to do things properly this time....
And in the end I spent 2-3 hours compiling bits of paper and cut up protocols to paste into my lab book...trying to make sense of what I meant when I scribbled something down.  And then it just looks 10x worse in my left-handed scrawl.

But we all know that the road to hell is paved with good intentions.  And I don't even follow that road all the it is no wonder to find myself having spent 3 hours working on my lab book again.

Of course the last phrase reminds me of a scene from Four Rooms:
"If the simple fact that I didn't want your bloated, 
dead body lying out on the floor is love, then no 
wonder we find ourselves as we are at this very 

But I digress....

I wish I could figure out how be better about the whole lab book thing. I think I need to go with the 
binder approach I've seen in a collaborator's lab.  And my chicken scratch is horrid.  Seriously...
I think anyone would much rather see typed pages than this crap.  I'll leave the original scrawled 
versions for posterity, and the typed ones for actual use. 

Monday, January 31, 2011

Things in full swing...

My lack of posting is mostly due to the fact that I'm having a hard time figuring out what, if anything, I'm trying to say in my posts.  To be honest, my posts feel like a whole lotta jabbering on about nothing...but oh what the hell.

I'm currently dealing with growing up several different strains for a big experiment later this week.  Over the weekend I was pleasantly surprised with how smoothly things were going.  And then today the reality hits:  there's only one autoclave, so today's progress has been slow....and there's an ice/sleet storm waiting in the wings to f--- up tomorrow.  I'm slightly concerned about inoculating my anaerobes tonight in case tomorrow becomes one giant skating rink impeding my ability to drive to work.  I have learned the hard way of what happens when anaerobes over-grow in 1L flasks. 

I was telling the Mr. over the weekend that it's nicer to get the snow in drips and drabs instead of one huge snowfall which we experienced February 2010 last year.

I take that back now.
It's really frustrating to plan experiments while opening the 10 day weather forecast and wonder if your plans will fly or not.

Friday, January 7, 2011

Rebooting the brain....

Technically I've been back from the UK since Tuesday, but I think I'm still trying to reboot my brain.
Falling right back into lab routine is stalling on me for some reason.  I think it has something to do with these:

A) The last meeting with my PI went something like this:
"Hmmm, what we thought was going to have significance didn't.  We need to figure out where to go with this."
B) I need to re-read my notes from the last meeting and then read a ton of literature.
C) My PI has been away all week, and I know that if I start things, they are going to scrap everything come Monday anyway.
D) My car decided to crap out on me, and I'm currently waiting for the death toll call from the mechanic to find out how much more in debt I'm about to be.

The last one saps my concentration quite a bit. 
Not to mention the Mr. is still in the UK for a couple more weeks, so I have full time duty of taking care of the Spoiled Rotten Cat, which is still slightly traumatized from being left for 2 weeks.

I wish I knew how to remove the fog from my brain.  Copious amounts of coffee might do the trick.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

surely NASA has a few grand lying around...

The whole arsenic bacteria discussion is still going strong.  There's a million different angles on it, which I won't go into detail because I don't consider myself at the level of expertise to explain it all eloquently.  I'm sure a simple google search will yield better reviews of the whole matter.  Ed Yong at Not Exactly Rocket Science has reviewed quite a lot of the public criticism, and Derek Lowe at In the Pipeline has a few discussions concerning the chemistry side of things.

All that said....
I had a thought today:  why didn't NASA pony up the money for the experiments that could have* aided the whole paper? 

I don't entirely understand the benefit of NASA's actions.  First they taunt people with a press conference concerning "an announcement" two days prior....obviously they were setting things up for a big event.  Why did they do that if what they were announcing wasn't ironclad?  It doesn't make sense.
So NASA riles up the media for a big announcement....then lets down the general media by "only having Earth based bacteria" in their announcement....and then they further get egg on their face by the weak science holding the "big announcement." 

Now stay with me here...

From Ed Yong's review of the drama:

Nonetheless, later in the day, NASA arranged for a quirky lecture about the findings. After some bizarre goofing-off, [Ron] Oremland addressed a few of the criticisms. He said that lack of money prevented them from doing mass spectrometry experiments. 

Surely NASA could have ponied up the money for these experiments?  They went to all the trouble of announcing their pending announcement....which ultimately disappointed the general media because it wasn't about E.T. or something.  But....the announcement had extraordinary claims to it.  Why raise the awareness if they couldn't shell out a few grand for the experiments to properly back this up?

If this paper had hit Science without all the media being goaded along by NASA, the backlash would have been far less.  It doesn't make sense that NASA would do this....or am I wrong?  I'm not saying that there aren't some interesting findings here, but the whole bent NASA went with just seems
I don't understand why NASA would choose the higher platform for their wondrous belly flop. 

*by could have, I leave the possibility that the experiments could have also proven them wrong as well.  Who knows.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Make the bad man stop....

So life almost got back to normal.....
But instead, I'm bogged down with a glorified genetics assignment....

I can't even explain it. 
It doesn't help that my immune system has declared mutiny due to the abusive nutrition and sleep deprivation. 
I just need a few more days...I've promised my brain, my family, and especially the Mr. that I will unplug my brain come the end of next week.  We're due to fly back to the UK, and I dare say I might actually sleep on the flight.

The Mr. has been a saint keeping me supplied with food, tea, coffee, as well as keeping the home from falling apart.  (I did do an ass load of laundry over the weekend.)  I'm fluctuating from moments of rebellion and working on puzzles to the 14 hour work marathons where I feel like some tweaked out albino rat with glowing red eyes that's running on a hamster wheel with no inclination of stopping anytime soon.....

I'm just coming off the latter analogy at the moment. 
Oh thank christ that next semester I won't be taking classes.