July 28, 2011

Hard to be an Optimist

I woke up yesterday morning feeling really good.  I had a full day of experiments planned, and I was really happy that there wouldn’t be too much down time.  So I got to lab and got started, full of positive energy.  Some of our steps required us to wait for a chemical reaction to happen, so we didn’t mind stepping away from lab to participate in the weekly lab meeting. 

That was the beginning of the end of my good mood.

The meeting predictably started 40 minutes late.  Neither of the senior lab members were there, so one of the graduate students finally got things started.  We’d wrapped up all of the issues when the lab head arrives, a full 75 minutes late.  He made us go through the entire thing all over again so he could give his input.  At this point I was itching to get back to lab.  We’d lost a lot of time and I wasn’t looking forward to staying late.  I figured if I cut my lunch really short I’d still be able to finish everything, so I started to get up, determined and focused. 

Then the lab director had us all stay put so that we could have another meeting, but not just yet.  He went outside to talk to a graduate student for 15 minutes, leaving Jared and me in the meeting room with four other students.  When he came back, we had a second meeting on developing the curriculum for an outreach program that the lab was running starting next week.  First, it amazed me that they were going to lead a program that started in four days and hadn’t planned for any of it.  Second, I couldn’t believe that the professor started by outlining a plan whereby the outreach participants (all high school students) would listen to presentations for two hours straight on Monday as a nice introduction.  I don’t know anyone who would be excited to listen to lecture for two hours without a break, so I gave input to that effect.  This had an unintended consequence.

I suggested they do an activity in the middle of the first day to break up the lecture segments.  Jared agreed and suggested a fun disease-spread simulation that would tie in with one of the points they would be making about global health.  They loved the idea, and he helped explain it to them, and then at the end the lab director told us that we would be presenting it.  Wow.  This is their outreach program, not ours.  We’re here to do research, not to take over their commitments. 

Well, message received on that number.  Jared and I wisely kept our mouths shut for the rest of the meeting so as to not get any more responsibilities, and it finally concluded at 1:45 pm.  Neither of us had eaten lunch, and there was no longer any chance that we were going to get all of our work done in time.  We went back to the lab, hungry, to do what we could.  Our hope was to hurry to get to a step that required us to wait for two hours, and then we could have a late lunch then. 

On returning, we picked up our chips, which had chemical spots placed on them.  We needed to verify the position of the spots underneath the IRIS, a high power microscope of sorts.  Both of us looked and looked, but sadly it appeared that all of the spots had vanished when we rinsed the slides.  This was unexpected, and Carlos couldn’t explain how it happened. 

That threw our plan completely out the window.  I blamed the lack of spots on the four hour lab meeting, since we had immersed our chips in water for far longer than usual.  Now we had to completely rethink our plan.  We took some new chips, coated them with a polymer to allow proteins to stick to them, and then put them in the vacuum chamber to keep them until Monday.  This wouldn’t have taken long, except that we had to make the polymer first and that took a while. 

All in all we ended up leaving the lab at about 4:00.  We created a very basic list of things to do next week, and since all are exceedingly simple it should be no problem getting all of it done in time for the end of the program.  Hopefully there won’t be any major surprises next week.  

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