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Friday, January 28, 2005

Questioning my commitment

I had an unexpected (and as ever, unwanted) meeting with SWMNBN today. For some reason, she had come over to watch our journal club. Having been in the lab until 2am this morning I had hoped to get a bit of crafty shut eye in this morning's journal club, however the presence of SWMNBN meant I had to stay awake and even ask a couple of intelligent questions.

After the meeting she collared me.

"How is it going?"
At this point I was sitting in front of my laptop with a big, bright, impressive graph on the screen.

"Have you finished the southern blots - you said you'd do them last year".

The short answer is "No". I didn't have time before christmas, having already worked myself to the point of near clinical exhaustion. Unfortunately I started to do them this week. A colleague had generously agreed to show me what to do, and most importantly help me do some isotope work. I am fully licensed to use radioactive chemicals, and used to use them years ago. But I am a little rusty, so not wanting to turn the back of the lab into another 3 Mile Island had arranged for this person to not only help me with the blot itself but to refresh my memory on the correct procedures for using isotope. An eminently sensible decision, I'm sure you'll agree.

Unfortunately my colleague, in his enthusiasm to help me, forgot a critical step in the procedure and hence the blot failed long before I got the chance to play with radiation. Rather embarrassing for him and irritating for me, since I now have to work over the weekend and it will be impossible to get results before Tuesday's scheduled meeting with SWMNBN. Although unwilling to tell tales out of class, self preservation takes precedence in these matters and so I had to explain what had happened.

"Why didn't you follow the procedure in Maniatis?"

Maniatis is the molecular biologist's bible - rather like the Haynes guide is for car mechanics. Unfortunately the guide we have is almost 10 years old - technology moves on of course, and whilst the techniques in there are tried and tested, they have often been superceded by newer, more efficient techniques - which my colleague is well-versed in. So no I didn't follow Maniatis, I followed my workmate.

"What else have you done?"

I showed her my piece de resistance. A series of brightly coloured graphs that I had been working on for two weeks. Interesting, she agreed, promptly demanding that I do another dozen or so superfluous experiments. *Sigh*, anything for a quiet life.

Then she dropped the clanger.

"Is that all you've done? Those graphs won't have taken very long."

WTF? Is she having a laugh?
Each of those 2 day experimental runs produced nearly 10,000 data points. I then spent several hours after each run manipulating those datapoints to produce not only pretty graphs but a wealth of statistical data. In addition to cutting and pasting the datapoints into a sensible order I applied some 2,500 formulae to each spreadsheet. To be sure, EXCEL's fill columns function has been heavily used here, but most of my data is not contiguous and so I couldn't just drag the cursor and have everything done for me. After finally generating each graph, I analysed it by eye before applying yet more mathematical formulae to what I judged to be the most interesting part of the graph. To give some idea of how much work was done, the raw data out of the scanner was contained in a 53Kb spreadsheet. By the time I had finished the spreadsheet had swelled in size to 87Mb. It's so large that my new laptop, with its 3.2GHz chip and 1 Gb RAM is the only machine capable of opening it without crashing. This of course means I couldn't print it in colour (another gripe for another day). Not only that, I have done this 4 times.

The problem with SWMNBN is that not only does she have little comprehension of the amount of actual work required to do a job, she also expects everything to work first time, which of course never happens. She is also absolutely paranoid that people who aren't in her direct line of sight at all times are messing about and not doing any work. Even those who work in her lab are regularly accused of not taking their work seriously enough. That's pretty galling when she leaves at 6pm - and you are only halfway through your days work.

Unfortunately, as is too often the case, I had to open my big mouth and mention that I had been writing an indepth essay that I intend to use as the starting point of any future papers we write.

"That's useful - can we see it Tuesday?"

So, no my friends, I will not be able to go to the cinema this weekend like I've been promising for the past month. I will be in the lab and in front of the computer writing a critical assessment of all of the literature regarding my project. I should have said nothing and stuck with my original plan - to produce it unexpectedly at a future meeting when things are looking even bleaker. Bugger.

The hunt for other employment goes on...



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