Wednesday, October 27, 2010

The Graduate Research Paradox

I'm starting to think about spring semester, and I've hit a bit of a conundrum. 
You see, this summer was mostly squandered away waiting either for cultures to arrive or to get equipment to work with anaerobes.  By the time everything was good to go, it was August.  And classes have plagued my productivity ever since.

I would LOVE to tell classes off next semester and just get down to the brass tacks of my research. 
I may be able to.  You see, my first semester I took 10 credits (3 classes) while working as a research assistant for my lab*.  I was paid by a grant completely unrelated to my thesis, so I was paid as a tech instead of having to TA.  I didn't know (and no one the graduate office bothered to tell me) that I really only had to take 4-6 credits at the 600-level.  In the end, it kinda works out, as of now, I only have to take 1 more class, and 2 more seminars.

My reasoning for putting off taking that 1 class in the spring are: A) The class offered doesn't really apply to my area of specialization and B) I have my qualifying exams + thesis proposal defense in May.  I would rather prepare for my exams, as well as get some serious research done for my preliminary data/ have a solid proposal defense. 

I think my advisor will go for it. 
A better class becomes available in Spring 2012 (I missed it last spring), so there's always that.  I wonder how many other graduate students do this?  I know that the exams are going to be tough.  One of my classmates has a mutual committee member, and she said that his exam was insanely difficult.  This particular member has already told me that he'll be testing me on possible genetic manipulation that I might use in my research.  Genetics is not my strong point.  In theory I'm ok, but I've had very little practice with it.  All the more reason for me to really prepare. 

And now...instead of working on some new ideas, I have to wade through another assignment due on Friday.  It isn't that I don't enjoy my classes; I just wish they would quit taking up so much time.

*I should clarify that my particular PhD program doesn't have rotations.  You basically have to be approved and brought on to a lab prior to starting.  If the lab takes you on, but doesn't have funding, you can always TA your way through (though I haven't heard of this happening).

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Running ragged...

I'm just now getting to a post I've had in my head since Sunday.  That's lame, but things have been rolling fast for the last several days.  It's been so pathetic that during the morning drive to work with the Mr., we had to itemize our evening. 

I've been kept busy ironing out issues with my anaerobic cultures.  Those who have worked with them know and understand the suckiness that goes with that...those who haven't worked with anaerobes will continue to live on in ignorant bliss. I was boiling media and dealing with syringes full of sodium sulfide, I was thinking this was FAR better than sitting next to Mouth-Breather-Boy with severe halitosis in the lab meeting for a solid hour.  I will not complain about making anaerobic media again.  Halitosis Mouth-Breather-Boy?  Or stinky anaerobic media?  Pick your level of hell. 

But on to my original idea for the post.  Cooking.
I love this.  You can buy this apron at  LOVE this comic.  Seriously.  Go to the beginning and kill a day reading up to what's current.  =)

In my household (again, it's just me, the Mr., and the spoiled rotten Cat), we love to cook.  Well, not the cat, though if we let him I'm sure he'd want to.  The Mr. and I take turns cooking though. feels like everything that I make that he likes, has onions in it.  Loads of 'em.  I'm one of the afflicted that if I make one slice into a raw onion, I'm in pain and crying my eyes out. 

I remember I was in Organic Chemistry II when my professor got to sulfenic acids, and in particular syn-propanethial-S-oxide which is released when you slice onions.  I loved that class...he was always telling us fascinating tidbits about every day organic chemistry.  I also loved his relaxed pace as he wrote out every equation on the chalkboard while we scribbled frantically to write everything down.  But I digress...

I loath the painful side of chopping onions, so I had an idea.  I won't claim originality on this.  Around 2007 I had a short-lived blog known as 1420Mhz, and on my blog roll was a fellow undergrad's blog known as 90%true or something.  (I should probably look that up.)  On one post, he was chopping onions with his lab goggles on.  I remember thinking at the time, "THAT is awesome...."  
So....during the most recent move from one apartment to another in the city my MRU is in...I stumbled across an old pair of lab goggles.  Normally I had some super awesome sleek lab glasses that I loved and need to find another pair of, but one day I forgot them, and bought the big bulky goggles out of necessity (have them or lose points on my lab grade).  Turns out that day I didn't even need them, and threw them in my backpack.
And this summer I found them again...and now they are awesomely used in my kitchen.  Technically, since they were never used in a lab that's ok.  
I even hang them up in the cupboard.  
The Mr. usually laughs at me for wearing them, but chopping onions is bliss.  I was preparing meatloaf without a care in the world, and I thought that this should be shared.  It's a very odd sensation to smell the onions without your eyes watering.  The smell almost triggers a Pavlovian wincing of the eyes, but after a while it's nothing but awesome.  I highly recommend it.  Just make sure you use them early in the day, and not ~1hr before entertaining:  those who have worn them know the super stupid outline imprinted on your face lingers after your lab class for at least 30 minutes. 

Thursday, October 7, 2010

I'm not insane -- my mother had me tested.

It's been a lovely crap-tastic week.  It always feels like no matter what I do, in whatever order, I'm not doing things fast enough or efficiently enough.  Of course it's been 24 hours since I started the de-icing process, and I'm just now finished hammering, heating, and mopping up the mess. 

Oddly enough I'm looking forward to having no social engagements and a full Saturday & Sunday to get stuff done in the lab.  And that's just sad.  I'm at the stage when I'm starting to get annoyed with classes because they really interrupt things.  I think I only have one next semester, and then after that I just go to two more seminars over the following two years. 

It IS Thursday...which means a new episode of Big Bang Theory!!!  Initially the over-used laugh track really put me off, but Sheldon Cooper won me over.

While I'm not one of those sci-fi obsessed geeks, I love the terminology jokes that are bantered around.  I don't get a TON of physics, but I can appreciate it (I liked Feynman's Six Easy Pieces).  And where else is the word protocol thrown about more in a non-military setting?  It's a show when I can revel in my nerdiness within the household....and by household I mean my husband and our spoiled-rotten cat. 

My husband has ~2 years of what the UK calls a "bioscience" degree, but then quit because he's more art/music orientated.  He gets the gist of my work, but I feel no compulsion to bore him with minute details of the day-to-day (I'll save that for when I defend my thesis a few years down the road).  In this respect, most of my social interaction is with non-science people (and thusly turn to the blog world for science-y interaction).  The Mr. will sit through Big Bang Theory, but usually it's out of hanging out with me, rather than wanting to watch it.  I've had to explain what a Ren Faire is, and whether or not online gamers or comic conventions "really look like that," so his dislike is more from lack of commonality than anything else. 

That said, one of my best friends told me about Big Bang Theory, and she's not what I would consider science-y oriented.  I contend there's some mass appeal beyond the nerd community...I'm guessing it might be the witty sarcasm/ quick dialog insults a la Will and Grace sort of humor.   

Either way, it's this time of the week that I get to sit down with a snack, giggle at the jokes, and enjoy that someone out there is catering to my demographic for once.

If this is dis-jointed, it's because it was written over several breaks from various other things in the lab.  I really should end this and figure out which fire to put out next.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

I know the game so well....

Today was one of those days that I was going to get a ton done.  Seriously.  I got to work an hour early for a meeting, got my stuff was going to be awesome.

After a productive meeting with my PI and a fellow professor in our department, I felt hopeful.  Said professor has taken pity on me, and is offering time and his post-doc's expertise to help with isolating/quantifying some compounds of interest.  Sweet.
The catch was that said professor is going to leave town I need to summarize the protocols popular for these compounds.  Knowing how these things go....this was gonna take some time.  But hey!  It's cool.  I had my cultures in check: bring on the work!

Or no.
I was quickly reminded I needed to hunt down some cultures and start them growing for something else.  No biggie. 
Our lab is split between two smaller labs, as my PI is slightly new to the MRU we're at, and I'm told the MRU is renovating a shiny brand new should be finished in a year (or so they say).  My bench & desk are in one small lab area shared with one other post-masters student who has stayed on as a tech.
The other lab down the hall has the other current PhD student, and all of the undergrads. 
I rarely use the fridge in the other lab because I'm rarely there....but there might be the chance I'll find an old plate of the desired culture.  As I'm digging around...I notice everything is wet. 

The freezer part of the fridge has been frosted over for some time.  I noticed in July it was a little difficult to close the fridge, but it would still close.  But now, I sense that something is very wrong.  The reagents don't look cold.  I ask a nearby undergrad what's up with the fridge.
Ungergrad:  Oh, the frost over the freezer blocks you from closing the door all the way.
Me:  So it isn't getting cold enough?
Undergrad:  Yah
Me:  Did you just notice this today?
Undergrad:  No.  Probably earlier this week.

WTF?  Earlier this in 2-3 days ago.  There's stuff that we use in there.  Stuff I use occasionally for gels and what-not. 

Immediately my day has shifted.  Trying to cram everything into the fridge in the lab space I'm at...locating a cold room to store other stuff.  Then start the de-icing process of hammering away at the freezer, borrowing a hair dryer from another lab so I don't damage the coils in the freezer.... 
I'm annoyed because if someone had told me this on Monday, I could have taken care of it.  It wouldn't have cut into the day so terribly. 

But I know why the undergrad didn't mention it to anyone.  She didn't want to get stuck doing it herself.  Maybe she had a class to run to, or homework to finish...or whatever.  I did that kinda crap when I was an undergrad (well, kinda - I stayed and helped for 2 hours when a freezer went down). 

So I sent an email to the lab group:  hey, if something is broken/not functioning/etc., even if you don't have the time to fix it, no biggie.  Just let us know.  I'd rather have an undergrad shoot me a "oh by the way...I think the fridge in room #xxx is acting funny..." email sooner rather than later. 

As a grad student I accept that I'm cheap labor and part of my duties are the mundane lab maintenance that undergrads aren't required to keep up.
But...A) some of those reagents could be worthless from spending ~24 hours about 4°C
And B) I could have soooo easily done this Monday or Tuesday of this week.  Not today. 

I was planning on catching up on sleep this weekend anyway.


I'm a 2nd year PhD student in molecular biology.  My blog is just my way of throwing my hat into the science blog ring instead of remaining a nameless commenter on my favorite science blogs.

I got the idea for Do ALL the Science! from a friend who first introduced me to Hyperbole and a Half, which is AWESOME.  Since I've been reading Hyperbole and a Half, all the posts make me laugh until I cry. 

Recently, one of her posts was stretched out to the science world by another one of my favorite bloggers, Scicurious
While I was trying to think of a name for the blog, said friend suggested: DO ALL THE SCIENCE!
I hope that both Allie (creator of Hyperbole and a Half) and Scicurious attribute the title of my blog as the complement intended.  (But no, I am not going to run off and email both about it.)

My undergraduate years were spent focusing on microbiology and biochemistry.  I still work with microorganisms in my graduate research, and I'm learning more biochemistry as time goes on.  (I was one of the weirdos who LIKED organic chemistry/ biochemistry, mmm'kay?)  Mostly my blog is for ranting about life in science, life in academia, life as a grad student, and the weirdness in between. 

While I realize the pseudo-anonymity is just that, I appreciate my right to it.  If you're a close friend, please keep this in mind while commenting.  I'm just another cog in the MRU machine for now.