In my post-grant deadline stupor… I’ve been rather useless. I can’t seem to get it together to call program about my score- I will though, I know I have to and I PROMISE I will. So- how have I been spending my days, I hear you cry…
Well, I’VE BEEN DOING AN EXPERIMENT. Yes, that’s right, an actual experiment. Someone’s got to do it for a paper revision and my postdoc-of-the-golden-hands is on her first vacation in three years, so I elected myself (what the hell was I thinking???). I remember with dread aaahhhem fondly the days when my thesis advisor would work in the lab himself now and again- (and I adore this person so the following details are only intended to be humorous). He didn’t have his own bench, so he would borrow one, if you were on vacation, chances were greater your bench would be hit. He didn’t have his own set of pipetmen… so he would borrow some … randomly and from various benches. No piece of equipment or stock solution was safe. At the end of the frenzy he would leave the lab and we would all go around and retrieve our stuff. And so it went… we all wished that he might retreat to his office and do something in there that he is really good at- like write a couple of papers or something. You get the picture.
Now, last week I decided I was doing this experiment and it’s been rather painful. You see, when you spend endless hours in your office, the people who actually work in the lab rearrange all the reagents… (or maybe I’m having a senior moment and just don’t remember where anything is, which is more likely). Then you discover that we don’t have 1/2 the reagents you need.. and you set out to borrow and order. And then, once you find all the reagents and get started- you realize that you have totally forgotten how much time doing the actual bench science can take. So, you are quickly disabused of the dream of just popping on in there and running ye old SDS-PAGE and having it work like magic… between meetings and manuscripts and other important stuff you need to get done. I still have my own bench- I’ve not been able to give it up… but I find that all my ‘stuff’ has been distributed around the lab to various people’s benches. So, I’m taking a page from thesis advisor… and I’m doing a little random co-opting here and there as well.
How’s this all working out? Surprise, surprise- it’s not going to be a quick or as easy as I originally planned. But that’s ok- I’m not going to make a habit of it rest assured, but I think it is a good thing once in a while to be around in the lab in a way that people can ask me for help. While I was down there, one of my students was having trouble with a particular procedure- and so I watched her step-by-step and figured out every place she is going wrong. Now- her results look awesome, and I needed to teach her how to troubleshoot this thing herself. My results, on the other hand, with the same procedure just suck. I’m thinking I can teach one- but I can no longer do one myself…at least not with a little warm up time. Speaking of warm up- I also burned two fingers on the boiling water bath..fortunately my students were not around to witness this!
What have I learned this week…
- You are destined to become just like your advisor (at least in some ways).
- Bench work takes a lot longer than you remember.
- It’s a good thing to be around in the lab to show your students how to do things…even if your own hands don’t work that well anymore…
- Many more ways to injure yourself in the lab vs. office.
- Bench work is an awesome way to take a step back and gain some perspective on those summary statements…
When my grad adviser got promoted to full professor we moved to a much larger lab space. My PI was so excited. She immediately proclaimed that she wanted her own bench! “Greeeaaaat,” we all responded through clenched teeth. She hasn’t used it once and now it is full of equipment.
She also tells us that when she was a student and post-doc that her and the other lab members would cringe every time the PI would enter the lab for a sustained amount of time. This is always followed with “Is that what you guys do when I come in the lab?” “Noooooooooo. We love it,” is our standard reply, laced with just a touch of loving sarcasm.
I thought all you students would get a kick out of that… watch out… someday this might be you speakin ….
Well since your graduate advisor is awesome, it’s not such a bad thing to become like your advisor in some ways. However, I have to laugh, since my recent foray into the lab could have been written from your script. Finally, one grad student, out of pity (and probably exasperation at being asked for the 5th time where Reagent X was), offered to do some of these pilot experiments for me, even though the experiments had nothing to do with her project. I was trying to explain that was missing the point, since I really enjoy benchwork, but I had to run off to a meeting…
Hilarious. Truly. Are we kidding ourselves though… and seeing benchwork through rose colored glasses now that we don’t do that much anymore?
Indeed. Although I am a little nervous about embarking on the path leading to PI of academic lab, I am giving it a go and I do hope that one day, I am exactly in the same position. Until then, it is great to read about any PI admitting that they just might have forgotten exactly how long experiments take. 🙂
I notice that among my compatriots- only BugDoc is big enough to admit that she’s right there with me!
No, me too, I’m right there with you. I totally recognized myself in your post, and had to laugh. I never thought I’d get so rusty at benchwork, so fast! Only 3 years into PI-dom, and already when I venture into the lab for an experiment, I am aimlessly wandering, looking through random drawers for things I cannot find. God forbid it is a weekend with nobody else around to point me the right direction. Neither of my former advisors ever attempted any bench science in my presence; grad advisor was BigCheezDepartmentChair, and postdoc advisor was SuperBigCheezEmeritus. Still, I remind myself of my husband’s grad advisor, a well-established senior PI who loved the bench and often came into the lab co-opting space and random pipetmen at will…leaving a hurricane of mess in his wake. And yes, the students and postdocs always breathed sighs of relief when he left, as I’m sure mine do.
Most PIs, including me, just do not have the focus required to get experimental details right AND to research and write grants AND to write papers about past data AND to manage different personalities in the lab AND to review papers AND to teach classes AND to fend off wanker colleagues who want you to think that they actually do experiments when in reality the only lab work they do is trivial crap.
crystaldoc- Thanks for fessing up!
Sciencegeek- Agreed. I’m slow to this discovery, but have made it nevertheless. I think my days of working in the lab are numbered…