Wednesday, 26 May 2010

Tania's Tales from the Lab Part 2: Live!

So today I'm the one who is experimenting - this blog post is coming to you live from the lab! Want to know what scientists actually do during the day? Or, if you are a scientist, is this lab more fun than yours? Only kidding...Please leave comments!

My laptop was stolen two days ago so I am blogging from my mobile phone, forgive any odd spelling.

12pm weekly lab meeting.

One person presents their work, everyone else eats lunch. Here goes...Ok, it's acronym city, and I've only heard of one of them so am a bit (very) lost. Like the idea of knockdowns. Sounds like cells meeting at High Noon!

Oooh, pretty pictures! Cells, I think. Hmm. Ah, once again, the word "story" is used in talking about the direction of research, what questions are going to be asked. Like this idea. And I like the word "vesicle".

Funding. It always comes down to money, doesn't it?

Meeting over, back in the lab office, and the post has arrived. What is it? Fish! M opens the square polystyrene box and there are two squarish clear containers, with blue liquid and dozens of baby zebrafish. They look happy, says M. How can you tell? And do you ever think that there are fish wandering around Royal Mail?

Having a fascinating discussion with E who is writing up her PhD thesis, and M, who did his PhD in Canada, where it took 6 years instead of the 3 here in the UK. Is a 6-year PhD an entirely different degree?


E is in a flat with three other women, all of whom are writing their PhD theses now and having such different experiences: one has a special desk assigned to her in the department so she can concentrate, one has a supervisor who won't get back to her with comments on her first chapter. E has a great supervisor but no good place to write: the lab office isn't quiet, her downstairs neighbours at home just had a baby and upstairs they are doing renovations!

Very interesting talk about supervisors - so much depends on who you get, you might even say that this relationship is vital for the course of science. If you get on well, if they are helpful, maybe a PhD student will continue on in science, or in this field, but if the relationship is fraught, difficult, your journey might take an entirely new direction.

E shows me her introduction, which is the size of my short story collection. This is just chapter 1! Am quite happy that I can sort of follow what it is talking about. We discuss how, plot-wise, the thesis doesn't really get into the action til Chapter 3, but of course that isn't the main consideration.

Am actually in the lab now as opposed to the lab office next door. When I first started embedding, Radio 2 was always on. Seemed like an odd choice. How did it affect experiments, I wondered. A few weeks later, I dared to change to Jack FM, which plays mostly 80s and 90s music and no talking! Will this affect anything? Then last week - no radio! No-one seemed to know who turned it off.... And today, Jack FM back on. Who is operating the lab radio?! (just heard Valerie by Steve Winwood. Nice.)


M has just shown me a new site he and Y recently discovered: The Journal of Visualized Experiments. It's totally amazing! It's like cookery shows for scientists:
How to dissect a fruit fly:
First, take specific-sized tweezers, then pull here...
shake twice for 3 minutes each...
And there's the postdoc, in his lab coat, being made to be the presenter, looking like he might burst out laughing as he talks to the camera. Is this the 40th time he's had to say this? Will future PhD students have to take a screen test? Next stop: Science TV? Love it! They have a Facebook group too.

B is having a bad day. She did something with gels and the result was completely baffling. Nothing appeared when something definitely should have shown up on the gel. A few week ago B had the opposite problem - too many things showed up on the gel in places they shouldn't. So M is helping out by testing the primer she used (do I sound like I know what all this means? Good!). M is just loading the gel - what will happen? Excitement is mounting! Jack FM is playing All I Need is A Miracle! Stay tuned....

bottle being filled with extra-pure water


Still waiting... M starting the electrophoresis. Will take 25 mins. Breath is bated.

Pipettes don't look like they did when I was at school. Bit scary, eh?

We head back into the lab. B watches as M gets the gel out and puts it in the machine which will show if there's something on it... And yes, there's something there!

But... wait.

It's not the right thing. Something's up. There's a stripe where there shouldn't be, and a blank space where there should be a stripe. It's inconclusive. M will have to do it all again. And this one test takes several days to prepare for.

Now this is science and it's not what you normally hear about - tests that when they work properly are "beautiful", says B, but can go wrong for so many different reasons. Some could be to do with the supplier who supplied the primer, say. Or a contaminated tube? There are so many steps involved in getting to the point where you even do the test, that doing it all again is a fairly exhausting and disheartening prospect. But there's no choice. B needs to see if a certain gene was present. She needs to know. So: one more time. Tomorrow is another day.

5.15 and I'm heading home. This has been great, but I think next time I will just scribble in my Moleskine, as I have been doing, and enjoy the tranquility involved in not being able to rush anything, having to wait. And then I will capture my reflections on the blog later. 


SueG said...

Love this fly-on-the-wall's eye view. But you did this on your phone? Unbelievable.

Tania Hershman said...

Sue, glad someone else thinks it is interesting, I wasn't sure! I have now been allowed to use one of the lab's eMacs which makes this all a bit better - am writing on my phone in real time and then coming to this computer to check spelling etc...! Any question you'd like me to put to the lab?

QWS said...

You know , in this post your writing style is awesome.How did you manage to write while you are doing lab job.It must be difficult.Newaz ,good post.I really want to know few more things about lab.Please share some more thing.

Peter29 said...

Its very interesting.You wrote this post on phone......Thats really impressive.