June 28, 2011

Paper reviews are in!

My first paper from my graduate lab is moving along well.  We submitted in April and have just now received the reviews back.

Impression thus far: not too shabby.

Overall, the reviews were very fair, which is something I've come to appreciate after my first experience with paper reviewers.  There is no point at which I'm surprised at what the reviewers wrote, and I feel that the changes they propose will only help the manuscript.

One of the big experiments that one of the reviewers so cleverly proposed we perform: done.  Last December.  I guess that I was thinking ahead when I did that experiment!

I'm liking this summer a lot so far.

June 25, 2011

Finally, Science is working again

I had been complaining time and time again about how nothing I touched would work.

It appears that my luck has changed.

Nearly every experiment I performed last week worked miraculously.  My PI and I have decided to expand a manuscript that we recently submitted, and she is all for me cranking out the data.  Surprisingly, my cells and antibodies have decided to cooperate with the endeavor, and my numbers look fantastic.

Just yesterday, however, I realized how crazy busy this week has been.  I've been trying to finish up the data for this paper (which is going to take a couple more weeks...), continue working on my core thesis proposal data, figure out what the heck is going on with the mice we just received from another lab, optimize some new reagents, and help and out the new graduate student.  And then my PI suggests I start another project with the new student.  Another project.  On a topic that I have never even thought about.

I've got my core thesis project, which is rolling along nicely.  In the last week, I've finally started working on all three aims in tandem, meaning that things are starting to come together at least a little bit, but it's overwhelming sometimes.  Additionally, I've got another project that involves figuring out what this unknown protein does (fun but overwhelming sometimes).  Add that on top of the collaboration we have with another lab, the data for which I am solely responsible.

And now another project.

I am starting to realize that I'm only one person and that there simply are not enough hours in the day and there is not enough caffeine in the coffee for me to accomplish all of this.  I simply don't have the hands to perform seven different experiments at once.  Over the last year, I have mastered the art of multitasking in the lab.  On any given day, I will, without a doubt, be performing at least five different experiments with five different sets of equipment.  But at the same time, it's hard to just throw some more projects on top of the pile.

Ugh.  I talked to the new student about it, and she said that my PI wouldn't have given me all of this to do if she didn't think I could do it.  A little part of me wants to believe that...

Or maybe I should just stop complaining (and typing this blog post) and get my butt back to work... :)

June 20, 2011

Immunology scares me

Working in a virology lab, I should have known what I was getting into.  Prior to joining the lab, my PI told me that she expected all of her students to learn immunology, whether that be through taking the painful class or through osmosis and reading.  Because I do not want to take this painful class, I have elected to read the Janeway Immunobiology textbook and learn as much as I can by teaching myself.  So far, so good.  Nonetheless, I can't help but be overwhelmed by immunology.

I think it stems back to my undergrad days, when very few people in my major (genetics and *cough* math) took the immunology course.  I knew of people that took it and enjoyed it, but it was just kind of ignored by most people with my major.  Thus, I've never really been exposed to immunology in any respect.  Combining that with the intense immunology talks that I've attended over the last couple years, it seems very intimidating.  And for many reasons:

1) Why are there so many types of T cells?!
2) Are those FACS plots really just the researchers making dots on a chart?
3) What are all those CDs?
4) Exactly what language are immunologists speaking?

Of course, this isn't a complete list.  I could go on and on about why I think immunology is scary.

I hope that in the future, I will look back on this post and think about how far I've come in learning immunology.  I do realize its importance, but it's just so difficult for me to learn for some reason...

June 15, 2011

Cloning is fake

My electron micrograph of E.coli,
courtesy of Adobe Illustrator
I've been trying to clone a set of 9 genes for the last three months.  Three months.  Not only is this ridiculous and a waste of my time, it is frustrating and makes me angry.  I received the vector from the lab across the hall, performed my PCR and tried to pop that insert into the vector.  You would think easy-peasy, but not so...  Even my PI is getting frustrated with it, and she's not even doing the cloning.

I complained about this to one of my friends in a neighboring lab, and she joked that the solution is simple: "Cloning is fake. It's all made up in order to make you feel like a failure."

While both of us know full-well that cloning, indeed, is not fake, I am going to use this as my excuse for the meantime... at least while my vector refuses to digest, ligate, and replicate.

Is that so much to ask?

Update: Clones 1, 2, and 3 are complete (Yes!).  Now on to 4 and 5 and ...  Soooo close...

June 12, 2011

The Palin Emails

Oh you betcha.  Former Governor Sarah Palin's emails are let loose upon the world and people are searching through them for juicy little tidbits at this very moment.  Those emails must be mighty interesting for people to spend so much time reading and analyzing them.

Which makes me wonder...

If I release all of my emails to the public, will some group of people read and analyze them for me?  Wouldn't it be wonderful to have all of my daily emails summarized for me?  

It would make my day a little bit easier if I didn't have to respond to emails too...

Just saying...

June 10, 2011

Department seminars: Oh, the joy

I gave my first department-wide presentation on Friday.  Granted, it was a short, 30-minute presentation that mostly focused on me introducing my project and describing the thinking behind it.  Nonetheless, it was still exhilarating and tiring at the same time.  When it was over, I was tired - even more when I returned home tonight.

I suppose I wasn't too worried about the presentation, as it is not very high-pressure.  Not too many people showed up, as it is summer and attendance tends to dwindle after eight months of these presentations.  Still, it was nice to see the 20-30-some people listening to me talk about what I love to do.

For the most part, I was able to answer questions reasonably well, and I also gained some suggestions that I think should make my research stronger.  At least I hope.

One thing that I certainly need to get over is my sensitivity toward criticism.  The data I presented was quite solid: I did not include any controversial data or anything that I wasn't absolutely certain is true.  I've learned from my previous, smaller presentations that I'm just not good with handling criticism.  When someone starts to evaluate my data critically, I usually become very defensive and feel as though I'm being attacked, which certainly isn't true in all cases.  Now more than ever, I need to get over my sensitivity...  It's going to get me no where in science.

But now my department-wide presentation is done for a year.  Next up: committee meetings. Joy.

June 8, 2011

The most frustrating part...

I hate office politics.  I hate when these politics are distracting and needless.  I hate that if I don't send the right email at the right time with the right words in the right order, I may have offended someone.

I've been thinking about this a lot lately, mostly because I've gotten some heat for writing an email and not being appropriate (apparently).  I certainly don't know who I could have offended, but I suppose if my email was taken the wrong way, maybe it could have been misconstrued.  In reality, this is ridiculous, and I shouldn't be wasting my time even thinking about the repercussions of saying "Hi" in an email versus "Good Morning" or "Hello."  Nor should anyone waste time being offended by my improper greeting.

But alas, I'm even writing a blog post about it.

From now on, I'm going to start all my emails with one of the following:

1) Yo
2) What's up
3) Heeeeeyyyy (for more formal situations)

This will solve all problems.  Certainly.

June 4, 2011

Am I not in on a joke?

I use Google Reader to stay abreast of the goings on in my favorite scientific journals.  When going through my feed, I sometimes come across journal articles that boggle my mind, usually from one or two specific journals (which will remain anonymous in this post, though your guess is probably right).  My initial hint that I should immediately skip over a paper is if there is a question mark in the title.  The first rule I learned when starting to write in a scientific manner is that one must never, never use a question as a title.  Instead, one must convey their findings in an articulate statement.  As I was taught, making your title a question was "the easy way out" and was discouraged.

But I digress...  Some of the papers that I come across (and I see mocked on Twitter) just seem like jokes.  I tell myself that there must be some scientific reasoning behind the hypothesis in the study (if there is one) and that I'm just not up-to-date in the field to know what's important.  Still, there are other moments when I'm just rather awe-struck at what has been published.

One article that I remember was retracted due to the controversy behind its methodology and importance was about the first written record of influenza, as mentioned in the Bible.  While I'm not really one to judge the importance of others' research (what have I published in the last two years?  Nothing?  Oh, okay...), I can see why many would find this "research" distracting from truly important research.  Further, since this is a journal pertinent to my field, I can also see why some would think that a paper like this would lower the general impression of the journal.  I would feel slightly uneasy publishing in this journal knowing the qualify of the articles it has published in the past.

Still, I see articles similar to this Biblical influenza paper all the time.  And it makes me think that maybe there is some universal publication joke that I'm just not getting.  Are these papers published to slant the academic community toward some small fragment of comedy?  I doubt it.  Based on the titles, their affiliated institutions, and their content, I would say that these papers are just fluff, scientific nothingness packaged into a pretty little paper.  But why are the journals risking their reputations to publish this fluff?

And these are the papers that several hundreds (and thousands!) of people read precisely because they're funny, or ridiculous, or just plain stupid (maybe this is why the journals publish these papers!).  Now, I ask, who's the stupid one?  The authors who created and published the "ridiculous" studies, the reviewers that allowed the research to pass, or the masses of people that spent too much time scoffing and belittling the research?  Or is it me, the one who spent too much time composing this post about the papers and the readers?

Yeah, I think that I just answered my own question there.

June 1, 2011

The joy of summer recesses

A new emotion came over me as I drove into the parking lot this morning.  The parking lot was mostly empty, and I realized that it would remain like this for three more months.  Ahh, summer vacation for the medical students.  No longer will they be hogging the lot and parking as if they had just learned to drive.  Summer has arrived, and I love absolutely every second of it at school.

Not only is the parking arrangement so much easier, I also have no classes during the summer.  Essentially, I don't have to waste four hours of my life each week listening to lectures.  Instead, I get to perform cool experiments (and more of them!) and explore my creativity, which has admittedly wained during this last semester. Also, I can finally pick up that "extra" project I've had in my back pocket for the last year.  That one that I'm obligated to finish since we received a bunch of money for it.  Oof.  Yeah, I guess I'm glad I have so much extra time...

Even better:  fewer lab meetings.  My lab has a ridiculous number of lab meetings per week (three, to be exact) that really eat up time in the middle of the day.  Summer vacation means fewer lab meetings - now only one! - and, on top of that, there are fewer seminars and invited speakers.

Best: the weather is fantastic.  I'm looking forward to the days of sitting by the lake, reading a book, and just enjoying the summer heat.  Walking out of work when the sun is still shining is an added bonus.  Winter really can get my mood down, especially when I don't see the sun at all (no windows in the lab) during the day.  So it's finally nice to have a bright, blue, wonderful sky to greet me at the end of the day.  It's an added bonus that I can have my sunroof down as I drive into work and enjoy the cool morning air.

I've recently begun running outside after a lot of treadmill running.  Since I've never run in the summer, I'm not sure how I'll be able to handle it, but I think that some careful experimentation with when and how long I run will allow me to not collapse from heat exhaustion.  That and lots of water...