Recently, a Ph.D. student sought my opinion on a confusing banding pattern he was repeatedly seeing on some post-immunoprecipitation gel blot. (That one sentence skips rapidly through what is a multi-step and burdensome sequence, but the details are not my point, so I’ll not bother you with them.) I haven’t done any of this particular stuff myself for some time, but it rang a bell; and I recollected someone here who had hit on similar problems during his own Ph.D. Moreover, I know this person to be somewhat of a hoarder and where he stows his old lab books.
So, knowing also that this postdoc is a reasonable guy who wouldn’t mind in the least, I fetched said books and browsed through looking for relevant stuff. And what a surprise! Compared to my own patchy log, wherein days of routine drudgery are reflected by a corresponding lack of entry, these erstwhile documents constitute a veritable technical manual. Not a space was left unfilled: detailed protocols and variations thereon, annotated in tidy script with notes and thoughts detailing the reasoning behind their consideration; careful insertion of data, again copiously annotated; troubleshooting logically followed through; plus thoughts on the literature he was reading at the time. This guy was obviously a mustard-keen student who loved what he was doing (and who, by many accounts, submitted an exemplary thesis.)
I located some relevant material among the pages and, hopefully, shed some light on the student’s problem, for which he was, I think, grateful (it’s hard to tell sometimes). All very nice. But it got me thinking… about how my own lab diary pales in comparison. What are the reasons for this? Is it because I’ve lost interest? Or stamina? Has my short-term memory deteriorated to the point where I forget to write things down? Or because I have worked for some time now on what is a very tiresome problem? Does there come a time in life when any aptitude for lab work fades? Did I perhaps get into this a decade too late? Have I allowed circumstances to distract me from something that, to be really good at, requires greater application? Have I become too cynical about this particular rat-race? Is it that I just don’t give a feck anymore?!
Well sometimes. But not always. I know that some days I still love it. Often I consider myself very lucky – to have a job, for one, that allows me to sod three words I hate: career, routine, uniform. If this is the zenith, then I’m comfortable with that; I like the fact that, if I’ve been working long, unsociable, hobby-neglecting weekend hours, no-one bothers if I come in late now and again; and I like it that no-one gives a damn what you look like. And things have changed a bit recently. And I’ve moved offices, and am now sharing with someone who makes me laugh a lot, and who (bafflingly) makes encouraging comments about my work. And lately, you know, I think there might just be a bit of light breaking through. And I’ve just this evening helped out another student with a small problem she’s been having. And she said, “Thanks.” Which always makes me feel good. That’s all it takes sometimes.
Time for a beer; and to figure out where I am on Chinese Democracy. Have a good weekend. Cheers!