Items you will need on your scientific quest Part II.

Remember those things I said are universal to the pursuit of science?  I found a couple more items…

#3  A really great travel mug.

Screen Shot 2015-11-29 at 9.00.54 PMBecause face it.  You need coffee.  A LOT of coffee.  But everytime you get a cup of coffee from your favorite terrible coffee place, someone comes and asks you a question about experimental methods before you can drink it and then you have to fix a microscope for someone else.  So a travel mug becomes critical to the pursuit of science.  Look for one that has a) adequate volume for your coffee drinking habits and b) top-of-the-line insulation for maximum drinkability later (because cold coffee and hot coffee are both great, but that middle range is really quite aweful).

#4 An extra pair of pants.

Screen Shot 2015-11-29 at 8.47.20 PMFor when you spill a large volume of really-hot-even-though-you-got-it-hours-ago coffee all over the pair of pants that you were wearing just before you have to meet with the boss.  An extra pair of pants can be extremely useful.

Legendary.

Screen Shot 2015-11-26 at 9.23.36 PM

Hercules (or Herakles) was ridiculously strong. So strong, in fact, that as a baby he strangled poisonous snakes that were sent to kill him.   He then went on to complete the 12 labors—which included defeating a nine-headed hydra, wrestling a lion, driving away a flock of man-eating birds, and capturing a deer with golden horns and bronze hooves. Pretty. Legendary. Stuff.

What could this possible have to do with being a postdoc? Next to nothing, in fact! Except it seems highly doubtful that there was ever a hydra, or man-eating birds, or a magical deer. Maybe there was a lion, but did someone named Hercules ever wrestle it? Or maybe he just happened to see one once, and told all his friends how cool it was.

Ever hear of the postdoc who ran ten 384-well plate ELISAs all at the same time? Or who stripped and reprobed a western blot with 50 different antibodies? Or who pcr-amplified, digested, ligated, and then grew up and sequenced a whole new plasmid all in one day? Well, maybe not exactly. But I’ve noticed an interesting phenomenon that when a tech, or grad student, or postdoc leaves the lab, they occasionally reach “legendary” status and are remembered (and spoken of) for having performed incredible feats of science during their time in the lab.

I like to consider how I can reach such a level—the postdoc who rode into lab on a unicorn every morning, with a flask full of rainbows, and who’s every experiment she touched magically worked and turned to gold. And who had perfect hair.

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Happy Thanksgiving.

I stopped the car by the side of the road.  The sun was a shimmering sliver, radiant and burning just above the horizon.  Above the sky was grey and flat, low hanging clouds melting into the grey water below.  In seconds, the clouds became tinged with light tangerine orange and lemony yellows.  The sun was round now–almost a full disk–and it seemed impossibly large.  The clouds caught the light and ignited.  Hot pinks and molten purples diffusing out of the ocean.  Blinding and brilliant, the colors reflecting off the water in waves of color.  Up the sun rose, now passing behind the clouds.  The colors grew more diffuse–soft rose, ginger, lilac.

And then they were gone.  The world was grey again.

It took maybe all of five minutes, but somehow, going into lab didn’t seem so bad anymore.

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Items you will need on your scientific quest Part I

As with any endeavor, there are specific items that you will want to acquire for your journey as a postdoc.  Many items are likely to be specific to the specialty you have chosen.  It is my goal to share with you those items that I have found to be absolutely CRITICAL and generally universal.

#1.  A role of sturdy tape FullSizeRender-2

Whaaaaaaaat?  Tape?!?  That’s right.  The first item on this list is something you can find anywhere.  It’s not an erlenmeyer flask, a beaker, a bunson burner, or anything that generally denotes “science”.  It’s tape.

Recently, I was putting together the materials for my latest experiment.  I had several fancy-pants components that I was assembling.  Three pieces of equipment that totaled about $50,000.  Plus a bunch of non-reusable parts that racked up another $300 per sample.  What was the only way to get it to all function properly?  Tape.  That’s right, I was working with the equivalent of an awesome sports car, and it was all held together with tape.

Yay science!  As you can imagine, I have become a connoisseur of sorts when it comes to to tape–and I don’t mean that regular ol’ scotch kind (though plain masking tape is oddly handy).  Nope, my favorite is the classic rainbow role that you can purchase from most science vendors like this one.  I use it to compulsively label everything, I territorially make off “my” section of the lab bench, cold room, etc. with it, and I weave it together to form supports for the various wires and tubes that I use for experiments.  It’s super-handy.  I also occasionally dabble in electrical, duct, and packing tape.

#2 Krazy glue

This pretty much falls under the same category.  If you can’t tape your shit together, you should release the kragle.  Krazy glue is a pretty versatile product.  Mostly, the hard part is in exercising some measure of patience before trying to use whatever you just glued together.  Krazy glue also mixes wonderfully with powdered dental acrylic (like the kind you would use to fix dentures)–and once you do that, the world is your oyster.  A fabulously well-bonded and terminally un-openable oyster.

Stick around (pun!) and I’ll keep a running list of things to add to your postdoc bag o’ tricks under the “Items and Inventory” tab.

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Recap the week!

  • I’m listening to “Restaurant at the End of the Universe” by Douglas Adams—the second in the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy series and I’m loving it. If you haven’t already done so, you need to read these books right now because they contain important tidbits of information such as the answer to life the universe and everything. Also, Martin Freeman narrates it.
  • I designed a blog, or, er…it congealed
  • And then I re-designed it so that it wouldn’t burn your retinas as much as the first version. Your welcome.
  • I learned about Twitter. There is something about the exclusivity of verified accounts that makes me really want one…but somehow I think I should focus on being a postdoc first.
  • Apparently, this blog will occasionally discuss science because I can’t help myself. But don’t count on it. If you are looking for a great neuroscience blog try brainblogger or the Society for Neuroscience’s brainfacts.
  • You don’t find the Institute. The Institute finds you.FullSizeRender

 

It’s A-Mazing!

A-Mazing

A Maze.

I’m going to avoid making the obvious comparisons between life as a postdoc and this maze. That’s not why I made it. I made it simply because mazes are fun—can we just stop and have fun for a minute?

Actually, what I think of when I see this maze is the brain (but what doesn’t remind me of the brain?). Our ability to navigate our everyday environments is really amazing. In fact, so amazing that John O’Keefe, May-Britt Moser, and Edvard Moser shared the 2014 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for their joint discovery of the cells encoding position in the brain: place cells and grid cells. Place cells are found in a region of the brain called the hippocampus and were first described by O’Keefe in the 1970s. These neurons each send out signals every time you cross a specific point in space—like little proximity sensors they start screaming “FRONT DOOR!” or “KITCHEN SINK!” every time you are in a particular spot.  Grid cells, which were discovered by the Mosers in the early 2000s in a part of the brain called the entorhinal cortex, are more like having a world map in the corner of your screen while you play a video game. With grid cells, each single neuron sends out signals in a kind of checkerboard pattern as you walk around a room and, like a GPS, these signals help you to figure out where you are.

I have been thinking a lot lately about this because in Alzheimer’s disease both the hippocampus and the entorhinal cortex are severely affected, and spatial navigation is an ability that is lost early on.   One interesting paper I re-read recently was published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences in 2000 which use MRI to measured hippocampus size in London taxi cab drivers (http://www.pnas.org/content/97/8/4398.full). And guess what? Cab drivers, who spend most of their day navigating a major metropolitan city, had larger posterior hippocampi (yep, that’s plural, you have two of them) than people who don’t drive taxis!  And the longer they had been drivers, the larger it tended to be!  A later study in 2006 then tracked participants in the four-year London taxi cab driver licensing process and confirmed that those who passed the test basically “grew” this region of their brain over four years.  When you think about this, this is astonishing—it means what you do is altering the very structure of your brain!

Yes, I have heard that this works in other parts of the body as well—say, your muscles—though I don’t think I have personally experienced this phenomenon.   But think about it, what you are doing right now could be reshaping the soft putty of your brain and altering how you process information. Of course, when tested, the cab drivers also had worse visual memory.  So basically, there’s only so much space in your head and I have to wonder how being a postdoc may be “crowding out” other potentially useful areas of my brain…

Oh well!   The point is, take a minute. Solve a maze. Have fun and think about how useful those little cells in your brain are.

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