Wednesday, January 23, 2008

The new grad student should be afraid...

A little back story:

When I was in undergrad, I dont think I totally understood how 'grad school' worked. I was like 'How the hell do kids pick labs? How do you KNOW what you want to do? How do you decide on a thesis? I might love virology, but how do you decide 'I wanna spend 5 years studying the evolution of the vpu viroporin in Subtype C HIV-1'???

I didnt know that most students entering graduate school (well, at least at my uni) rotate through a few labs during the first year of school to decide where they fit the best, and which kinds of research they really enjoy. Then the principle investigator of that lab helps you decide what your project should be, and the more you learn, the more questions and potential solutions just start coming to you naturally.

Well, I ended up not needing to rotate-- Bossman decided I was worth keeping around :P But we still have rotating students coming into the laboratory.

Unless he does something really bad, I want to keep our current one.


Because hes good luck*.

I have been banging my head against the wall at work for the past 8 months trying to get an assay to work. It MUST work for me to move forward with my experiments. So I try changing one little thing, hope the assay works, it doesnt. Change something else, hope the assay workds, it doesnt. Try something else. Something else. Something else... I also didnt realize in undergrad how frequently shit just doesnt work in the lab... *sigh*

So today I walked into the flow cytometry facility, fully expecting my latest attempt to fail. Im not exaggerating-- though I am usually obnoxiously optimistic, this particular assay was killing me.

I put on the samples that always work. "Oooh yay. They worked. Fantastic. Hey... they worked a little better..." and I fought like mad not to get my hopes up. Put on a sample that never worked... It was perfect. PERFECT. Put on a few more samples that never worked... BEAUTIFUL.

I cried a little.

Ran like a little kid up to the lab, clutching my data, screaming at my committee members as I ran past their offices "I HAVE DAAAATA!! I HAVE DAAAAAAAAAAAAAAATAAAAAAA!!!!"

Bright red and a little sweaty, I slammed my results on Bossmans desk. "THREE great pieces of data today!!!!" he beamed back.

Our post doc got some great data today, as did the new rotating grad student.

Now, I didnt think rotating grad students little project worked. I had done the exact same procedure, another grad student in the lab has done the exact same procedure, post doc has done the exact same procedure, and we all just got a hand full of positive colonies.

Rotating grad student had a whole plate, hundreds of colonies, so in my head I was thinking "Aw, poor kid got all wild-type. Oh well, he can try again." NUH UH! Dude got ALLLLLL properly mutated plasmids!

The new rotating grad student is lucky.

If he decides to go to another lab, Im sawing off his foot.


*I told you all Im wooish. Dont you try to act surprised!


xander said...

Congratulations on the results.


Bill said...

Back in my day carrying around the foot of a luck grad student was typical. I don't think I would have gotten my PhD without it.

Besides, it was handy late at night when the vending machines were empty.

Josh said...

You really should have linked to this, rather than the Wikipedia article :)

Thomas said...

Congrats! I read your story to my wife and it gave her flashbacks to her own post-grad days.

mcmillan said...

Life as a grad student is much more fun when we're getting data. I had a run for a while over summer where my experiments were working great. Right now not so much, and when I just need to get a couple more good measurements to finish up my first paper here too.

I just found out I'll be getting an undergrad minion soon, maybe they'll be lucky and make the new expression system I'm going to have to start work.

Ian said...

Go Scott!!

maxi said...

Well done ERV!

I've been suffering in a similar manner, only my supervisor hears, "Why won't my nerves fiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiix???"

Ach I never knew this research thing was so hit and miss.

I'd keep hold of that wee 'un.

CAE said...

I started my thesis work with the expectation that nothing would ever work, based on a terrible undergrad research project. When something did work, I was delighted.

My then-boyfriend worked in the next lab. He'd completed a very successful Master's project and expected that all his PhD thesis work would go smoothly at all times. He was frequently disappointed.

I'm not sure which approach is better for a grad student's mental health...

The rebooted brain said...

In my lab today, 3 researchers got great results from procedures that had been bugging them.

Shit happens, sure - sometimes, though, it doesn't, and those times are GOOD.

Well done to your and your colleagues

Unsympathetic reader said...

"I was like 'How the hell do kids pick labs? How do you KNOW what you want to do? How do you decide on a thesis? I might love virology, but how do you decide 'I wanna spend 5 years studying the evolution of the vpu viroporin in Subtype C HIV-1'???"

I've been through the process and still don't have a good answer.

"Wherever you go, there you are."
- From the movie: 'The Adventures of Buckaroo Bonzai Across the 8th Dimension'.

"The new rotating grad student is lucky."

Don't discount it. We used to have a Tiki god carved out of porous volcanic rock. To predict whether a tough cloning reaction would go smoothly, we doused the head in alcohol, lit it, and spun the flaming figure on a plate turntable. If the stone carving faced in the general direction of the eppendorf tube when the rotation stopped, the reaction would work (praise the God of Molecular Biology!) and we'd go out to have a few beers to celebrate the future success. If the figure didn't face the tube, we'd go out to have a few beers to commiserate over the likely failure.

Typically, we timed our 'difficult' steps for 4pm on Friday or any day when the weather looked especially nice. Our little oracle was frequently wrong but the beer was always cold. But what more should puny mortals expect from a deity? Wasn't it enough that the drinks were refreshing?!!

Then we'd come back later in the evening and try pipetting the mix into the gel notches without missing too badly. Sometimes that was a real challenge...

Then there are the mornings when you passed your advisor at the lab door. They'd say, "Oh, starting early?" and you'd reply, "Nope, leaving late."

Spurge said...

I use threats to make the bugs grow. The more swearing the better.

They get lysed either way but they don't know that.

Evil Fruit Lord said...

In our lab here we're great believers in the idea that the PCR gods crave chicken. Generally they are happy to receive it by proxy--we try to eat it on days when we're going to run particularly critical experiments. So far no one has resorted to actual sacrifices, Santeria style, but I'm not ruling anything out.