Very Superstitious.

Knock on wood. Cross your fingers. A black cat crosses your path…

I just finished isolating RNA from cells. For those of you who aren’t science inclined, a quick reminder: bmicrocentrifugetubeefore proteins are made in your body, you have to make RNA from your DNA (which you have probably heard of—if not, you need to watch the educational film ‘Jurassic Park’). Isolating RNA is relatively straightforward, but there are lots of things that can degrade it. So it is EXTRA important to handle everything very, very carefully.   Also, and this is especially true if you are trying to isolate RNA from only a few thousand cells (or maybe even a single cell!), you have to come to terms with the fact that nothing you are going to do will be visible. You must believe that you put the cells in the tube, that the RNA was isolated from the rest of the cellular gunk, and that in the final steps you successfully re-dissolved a tiny bit of invisible RNA in a tiny bit of water. Oh, and in between there are many other invisible processes that could destroy your precious RNA. Often, I find myself dedicating large chunks of my time (days!) going through the steps to do something like RNA isolation only to find out that all the work was for nothing.


Not surprisingly, it is easy to become superstitious when you work with things that can’t be seen. Need to check the Farmer’s Almanac before you start your experiment? Great idea! Moon phase may be indicate conditions are not perfect for experimentation.

Now, this may come as a surprise to you. Superstition AND science? At the SAME time? Yes. In fact, I might argue that this is at the heart of scientific reproducibility—the notion that an experiment performed several times will yield the similar if not the same results. For example, if when you isolate RNA you perform a chicken dance after your last ethanol wash before you elute it from a column (Quiagen RNAeasy kit step 8-9, for those of you following along at home), then you should always do a chicken dance after your last ethanol wash. And, most importantly, when you publish your paper, please make sure to include it in your methods section.



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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.