Friday, February 26, 2010

Plays nice with others

In my continual quest for self-improvement (since my science ain't working) I have decided that this week's lesson is:

In grad school, if you're not miserable 100% of the time, something must be wrong with you, and it's just a matter of time before you get screwed over.

I'm all seriousness, it's been a rough week. Some shakeups in the lab means that all the latent frustrations people have have come tumbling out. I guess the only surprise to me is the number of people who are unhappy here. I've heard a lot of people expressing regrets about going to grad school, or choosing to do a phd rather than a masters degree. I've also heard that I'm fantastically and probably terminally naive for a) being interested in the science behind what I'm doing, and b) not looking to fight the faculty tooth and nail at all times.

Doing my best to keep my head down and concentrate on work. Which...isn't working. Fuck.

I was happy, dammit.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Working on Saturdays: a Completely Objective Analysis

Pro: The subway is so empty! I even got a seat!

Con: My bed is more comfortable than the subway seat. True story.

Pro: Ahhhh, peace and quiet. Just me and the pipette. And it's nice and sunny here. And I brought delicious soup for lunch.

Con: No one to eat lunch with. Can't eat at desk since desk is located in lab. Ate lunch while making a todo list to juggle the various experiments I want to do this week.

Pro: Wow, looks like I'll have lots to do this week. Great! I like being busy. And look at how much I'll have accomplished by Friday!

Con: Wait, this whole plan depends on Simple Experiment Gamma working out. Better go check on that...

Pro: Never have to wait to use equipment.

Con: It's that much quicker to find out that Simple Experiment Gamma didn't work. Crap.

Pro: Awesome labmate who helps me troubleshoot Gamma, and will be coming in tomorrow as well and will do a task for me so I don't need to come in.

Con: Awesome labmate also tells a story about student they knew who could never get Gamma, and Gamma-like things, and really anything at all to work, and who ended up switching fields. Nooooooooooooo...crap.

Pro: Well, I still have a few things I can try re: Gamma.

Con: But I'm fairly certain all of this could have waited until Monday.

tl,dr: I went in to the lab on saturday and my shit didn't work, so I came home and wrote a whiny blog post about it.

Thursday, February 18, 2010


Fig. 1: My science is totally Xtreem. (Found by Google image searching "science logo")

Is a lab a brand? Should it be?

This was inspired partly by a post by Prof-like substance on what new TT faculty face, and partly by a conversation I had with a grad student friend the other night. My friend's lab is new (<1 year) and the PI is of the opinion that part of making a name for himself and his research involves developing a "brand identity" for the lab, which seems to consist of a) a logo, and b) ....uhhhh, a slide template?

I know some labs have these things and it can be kind of cute if it's well done (and painful if it isn't) However, I'm skeptical that it has any real impact on people's view of the PI/lab/the research. Plus, this kind of thing takes a lot of time, and while we all have our talents, being able to work Illustrator doesn't make you a (good) designer.

My friend's argument seems to be that just having a good research program isn't enough to rise above the crowd, and you have to sell your science. Which I agree with. Where we differ is in the best way to do that--I maintain that it's just good old fashioned conferences, seminars and networking that takes care of the "selling the science". So I guess it's the PI who is the brand? Not visually of course (not sure my boss' head would make very good letterhead), but their name is important. I just don't think putting a lot of effort into this kind of thing is necessary or even has any impact at all. But I could be wrong.

My lab has a bare bones, totally functional (= up to date) website, but no logo or other distinguishing characteristic, but I have been part of labs that do have logos and color schemes. I don't think this is common though.

So, should a lab be/have a brand?

Saturday, February 13, 2010


I'm really starting to feel like I'm following in another student's footsteps. And I'm not sure if that's a good thing or not.

It's not like we're working on the same project. And we didn't come in to the lab from the same direction or background. But we have vaguely similar skillsets, at least in the vector space defined by the skills of students in our field. (Does that make sense? Because if it does I have a feeling it's an awesome analogy. Or just really nerdy. I'm sorry, it must be the viruses talking)

The other student (let's call her Alex) is nearly done her PhD and has been free with advice on all aspects of the lab/department/student experience. And science, that too. We get along socially and people have commented that apparently I'm the replacement Alex, or that the PI must have hired me to fill the void when she graduates.

Alex has also given me some older proposals and written work from years ago (partly as an example of what not to do...) But reading the stuff over gave me a rather creepy sense of deja vu. Switch a few keywords and we could be talking about the same projects. We're starting out taking the same approaches, and are at approximately the same point in our experiments (aha! So my progress is not as glacial as I had feared...)

In some ways this is kind of nice. It lessens the "I have no idea what's expected of me or how to proceed with this" feeling, and it's like I have a ready-made fit into the lab. But that's a bad thing as well: I don't want to just fill someone's place. I don't people will really make that connection though--we're not all that alike, personality wise, and we work on different things. So that's ok.

The only other problem of Alex's initial projects failed pretty spectacularly. She went through a real low point in her research early on before things started to work. And right now, after I've had One of Those Weeks where nothing is working, I can't help but worry that that's what I'm headed for too.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Waiting for spring

Sorry for dropping off the edge of the earth. Been busy, and nothing new or interesting to say, really.

Managed to schedule my committee meeting. Painful. Ow. Anticipate future pain, at approximately annual junctures. Ow ow ow.

Alternately trying to avoid and shamefully indulging in the gossip flying thick and fast around the lab. Yikes! A lot of it tends to be of the "wtf is the boss thinking" type, which...seems obvious, most of the time? Or maybe I've just been reading too many blogs and now have an inside scoop on the PI perspective. Or maybe I'm deluding myself. *cough* Either way, my meetings with the boss have been going pretty well, so as far as I know I'm doing things right. And I will try not to gossip too much. I promise.

Finished one milestone in my work, which means I've switched gears and started working on another aspect of the project while I wait for stuff to happen. There have been several false starts on that front (ie: pretty much all of last week going to waste, le sigh) but this is normal, especially for new students, yadda yadda yadda. I know the drill.

...but there have definitely been times when an experiment goes kablooie and one labmate looks at me funny, "wow, I've never seen data that horrible before," and I mope around for a couple hours before finding out that another labmate had trouble with that technique all the time when they were starting out. Arg.

So far though, I've been able to keep the "gah I suck at this" stress level at a (low!) basal level.

So, question for the Internet! What should I blog about? Why student seminars suck? Why journal club is awesome? What I wish someone had told me when I first joined the lab? Also, what is it with people not using referencing software? Isn't that horribly, awfully painful? Gah! My kingdom for an Endnote license.

Ok, goodnight now. Lots of science to do tomorrow. May your gels have the clarity of a summer brook, and all your reactions run to completion. Minion out.