When I first started this blog, I did some Googling and looked for other pages put together by postdocs, graduate students, scientists, etc. In general, I found quite a few, many of them fun and informative. They all had something in common though. That is: at a certain point, whoever was on the other end writing literally FELL. OFF. THE. PLANET.
I vowed I would not do the same.
Then I did.
But I’m still here. Still alive. Still postdoc-ing. I’ve published a paper. I received two grants. I’m working on another paper. I have formed collaborations with others in the lab. With other labs too. I’ve made friends and I’ve made enemies out of friends. I watched a colleague die of cancer. I had an existential crisis. I wondered why I was in science when I was working so hard all the time and couldn’t spend anytime with my family. I spent more time with my family. I felt extremely guilty I wasn’t working more in lab. I worked more and more and I took on more work because I felt like as long as I was working there wouldn’t be any time to stop and wonder about how much I should be working. But I’m still here.
#5 A drawer of hoarding. Find a good deep drawer. Chances are there are several unused ones throughout the lab. And by “unused”, I mean a previous graduate student or postdoc shoved a bunch of items (filter paper, cuvettes, cotton swabs, odd plasticware) into a drawer presumably to disapparate them and there they have remained since. Empty said drawer. Fill it with your secret stash of buffers, special pipette tips, favorite labels, troll dolls, etc. This is now an amazing treasure trove of science. And, because everyone assumes that the drawer is full of old garbage, no one will find it. Enjoy stunning your coworkers when the lab supply of a critcial reagent runs out and you can miraculously procure some from your drawer of hoarding for just this occasion.
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: before 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.