Key to managing one, let alone multiple minions is a good logging system. Before the creation of “the logs”, my freezer was full of boxes, mostly my own, imperfectly categorized by a combination of chronology, project and reagent types. Minions sometimes got a shiny new box with their name on the side and sometimes inherited an already half-filled one. Starting with a new minion or changing the direction of a project triggered a period of at least a week where I, together with the minion, must delve into the freezer to search for some reagent or another multiple times a day. Finding things I’d made usually didn’t take too long, but finding something that I knew a past minion made? Sigh.
Now, a few weeks before your summer minions start, is an excellent time to set up a logging system for your own personal stash of reagents if you don’t already have such a thing. Yes, it will be a pain in the ass. But the time you invest now will pay huge dividends. You will, of course, avoid two weeks of failed experiments, or having to recreate a reagent due to uncertainty about what the label says. You’ll have to trust me on that though because you’ll never actually know if you saved yourself from this fate or not – maybe your minion will have really good handwriting or something. However, the first time that you realize you forgot a control or want to quickly test out a new idea and text your minion “also cycle mp72 with p312 & p313 when you do that PCR. Tell you why tomorrow”. BOOM! You just saved a day. With the log, the instructions are clear and information dense. Most importantly, they can be flawlessly carried out in the absence of immediate understanding. First of all, the exact location of the reagents is specified – not “I think the tube is in the box marked Minion 2009 with a white sticker with a red star on the top that should say something like badass plasmid on the side”. Second of all, all of the relevant information – like antibiotic selection or concentration or whatever – is accessible to your minion, should they need that information.
But, you say, my lab already has a logging system in place. Why not just use that? You could, except in my experience general lab logs usually lack in two ways that are useful for untrained temporary personnel. The first is that they tend toward “finished” reagents, and not things that are “in process”, so they probably won’t capture the majority of what you’d find most useful for your minion to be able to find. The second is that they tend to be hard to access, since they are often made using proprietary software and hosted on a shared drive*. A temporary minion, if they can get the credentials to get to the shared drive, is unlikely to have the credentials to install the software to read the logs. That means that your minion will need you to both figure out where stuff is at as well as enter new information about the stuff they create. For these reasons, I suggest creating a private logging system for your stuff (that perhaps contains working stocks of stuff from the lab logs) that is easily accessible and editable by both you and your minion(s). Because I wanted the information in my logs to be private yet easily accessible to the member of my scientific army, I ended up using a google doc spreadsheet. When a new minion comes, I click the “share” button and add their e-mail address. Done.
Alright! You’re sold. You probably already know the sciency stuff you’ll want to include in your logs. I leave you with a few more pieces of advice.
1) Put in the log number explicitly as a field, to avoid “sorting” disasters.
2) Include the “source” (as in the name of who made/logged the material) and “date” – both of which will help you search your logs electronically. And will help you cross-check with a notebook, if necessary.
3) Include a “notes” field and encourage verbosity; it will end up containing some gems.
4) Have a field for “box number” to make physically finding the right tube a little faster.
5) Don’t over-think it; grab any tube and label it number 1. Grouping or prioritizing are completely unnecessary since spreadsheets have search buttons.
6) If a minion makes something good, have them log it right away. Minion projects can lapse for periods of time that are long enough for an agar plate to completely dehydrate, even in the fridge.
7) Your private log is awesome, but don’t neglect your lab logs. Anything that hits the threshold of “possibly useful to someone else” should be in a place where it can actually potentially be useful to someone else.
Your logs will be so awesome and useful that it will be hard to shut up about them. “Did you put that in the logs yet?” “I don’t know, you should check the logs.” “Check it out! I just put those new constructs from our collaborators in the logs” “I was looking through the logs last night and thinking…” Prepare yourself for a little gentle mockery.
* Sometimes restricted access is required by law. For example, in the case of clinical samples tied to patient information. Inquire! Don’t go rogue.
DOMA “touch[es] every aspect of life. Your partner is sick. Social Security. I mean, it’s pervasive. It’s not as though, well, there’s this little federal sphere and it’s only a tax question. It’s—it’s—as Justice Kennedy said, 1100 statutes, and it affects every area of life.” Once a state recognizes the freedom of gay and lesbian couples to marry, “for the federal government then to come in to say no joint return, no marital deduction, no Social Security benefits; your spouse is very sick but you can’t get leave . . . one might well ask, what kind of marriage is this?”
- Justice Ginsburg
On the surface, I’m just going about my business. And in fact, I’m doing the same. However, I find I’m highly aware that today and tomorrow the Supreme Court is hearing oral arguments on both Prop 8 and DOMA. I’m not going to live stream anything, refresh news pages or sign up for any twitter feeds. I’m working to a deadline right now there is too much to do in the next couple days to allow for such distractions. Also, like my youngest, I have trouble watching the awkward or scary parts. Xe will pull a blanket over hir face and bang on the sofa cushions through the suspenseful part of a movie. I’m holding my hands over my eyes and will peek cautiously once the dust has settled.
eeeeeeeeeeeee! Tell me when it’s over!
Next time a red or purple cabbage crosses your kitchen counter, you are now morally obligated to do the following: roughly chop anywhere from a quarter to an eighth of the head. Boil the cabbage in about 300 mLs of water for 10 minutes. Remove the cabbage from the water with a colander. Freeze your purple cabbage water in 20 to 50 mL aliquots in an ice cube tray, small tupperware or *ahem* 50 mL conical tubes, you know, whatever you happen to have lying around.
Why? Purple cabbage contains anthrocyanin, a totally non-toxic complete-safe, eat-it-it’s-cabbage pH indicator. With some aliquots in the freezer, you’re ready to do REAL SCIENCE (TM) (<- cuz, color change!) at a moments notice. Snow day? Sick day? Someone else’s kids come crash your house? Perhaps you’d enjoy making other parents feel inadequate. Or maybe you’d just sort of like to make some shit change color yourself (you must share any color-changing mixed drink recipes you create in the comments).
When the opportunity presents itself, thaw an aliquot, squeeze a lemon, pour a couple cups of different juices, dissolve some baking soda in water and hand out white plates and some spoons, or an ice cube tray and some straws (mouth pipetting is totally legit for food, right?), or, you know, maybe a 6 well plate and some plastic pipettes, depending on how you roll. (Protip: You can rinse and re-use the 6 well plate. It will seems wrong at first, but trust me here.) Titrate back and forth, pH everything by dropping cabbage infusion on solid foods too, rediscover the “volcano” reaction, bask in the joy of chemistry and corrupt the young.
For your reference:
pH 2 (pink): limes, lemons, vinegar
pH 4 (purple): oranges, apples, grapefruit
pH 6 (violet): watermelon, cucumber, milk
pH 8 (blue): frozen corn, baking soda, baking powder
pH 10 (green): soap (though I haven’t tested this myself)
pH 12 (yellow): The internets suggest 100 mM NaOH, taking this activity firmly out of the “safe for marginally-supervised preschoolers” zone.
As a outreach activity: “Tasting with your eyes”.
Due to a combination of many birthdays in a month containing more than a week without school, one of my kids classrooms was to celebrate three birthdays on the same day. Cupcakes are great. More cupcakes are even more great. The number of cupcakes required to properly celebrate all three children, however? The teacher begged me to consider bringing in a special activity instead – maybe something “sciency”? I love decorating cupcakes, but she found my weak spot. How could I say no?
In preparation, the class talked about the senses – in particular taste – a few days ahead of time so when I asked this sophisticated group of preschoolers if they thought I could use my eyes to know if something was sour or not, I got a resounding NO! Excellent.
To calibrate, I had the kids taste first, then test the pH. I passed around the lemon slices, made all the kids taste them (Bwah ha ha ha!) and then added a couple drops of lemon juice to a well containing ~2 mLs of cabbage juice. Pink! We taped a picture of a lemon on the pink piece of paper. Next up? Cucumber (bluish), then the apples (purple). Calibration complete.
In the following round, we tested the pH first, predicted if the food was going to be sour or not, and then tasted.
At the end, we examined the data – looking at the pictures taped to the pink, purple and blue sheets of paper (after some discussion, the grapefruit and orange were taped on the boarder between pink and purple sheets) – and decided that if something turned the cabbage juice pink, we could tell with our eyes that it would be sour. I handed out the pipettes and 6-well plates and let the kids make things change colors and fizz. Then we ate a large number of cupcakes.
As a party favor, I sent each kid home with a plastic pipette and a 50 mL conical of purple cabbage pH indicator with a note explaining what it was. I donated the 6 well plates and the plastic pipettes to the school. They were excited to keep these items for other projects.
I admit I went a little overboard. I not only sliced up every food item listed above for tasting but also made a juice or purée of each. Some of them were a little thick and/or opaque, particularly the corn even after I watered it down, but aside from being difficult for some of the kids to pipette, I don’t think I’d go to the trouble of trying to filter anything. As it turned out, however, I did have way more purée than I needed. For 15 kids, I think 50 mLs of liquid would more than suffice. On the other hand, I’ll warn you that there was nearly a riot over the watermelon slices for tasting; even an entire melon would not have been enough.
Growing up, my parents – like many people’s parents – wanted me to be a medical doctor – maybe a neurosurgeon. Having a child become a doctor was an accomplishment, a mark of good parenting and a point of parental pride. To them, a medical career is a well-compensated, well-respected position with high job security. My parents were pleased that I chose to major in the sciences in college, and only as I approached graduation, became concerned that I had not yet taken the MCAT.
The thing was, I had volunteered as a candy striper at a local hospital one summer while I was in high school. Agnostic at the start of that summer, I was quite sure that a medical career was not for me by summer’s end.
My parents tried very hard to get me to even just take the MCAT, culminating in offering me an amount of cash that equaled a month’s rent to just go and take the exam, completely unprepared. I knew if I relented in that, the pressure would only intensify; what’s the harm in just applying, just going on the interview, just trying it out for a year… Up until a few years ago they would mention it wasn’t too late to go to med school; you have such steady hands, you’d make a great surgeon! To this day, there is residual disappointment that I am not a “real” doctor.
But not going to med school didn’t make me a sinner.
It feels awesome when you can meet someone you respect’s high expectations, or even better if you can surprise that person by exceeding them. On the long drives back to college with my parents, I would daydream about just giving in and going to med school, and then becoming a brain surgeon and basking in parental approval for ever and ever. And perhaps then, if I came out to them, the two things would sort of balance out and they would still be proud of me and of themselves.
Even at the time, I knew it wouldn’t work.
But maybe I wasn’t really gay? Maybe I just hadn’t met the right boy or maybe my expectations of how relationships are supposed to work was unrealistic or <insert all sorts of ridiculous bullshit here>. For me, (among other things) being gay effectively meant never meeting, let alone exceeding, my parent’s expectations again.
In the throws of my questioning phase, much of my mental efforts were caught up trying to reconcile the person I am with the person I was supposed to be, and doing the mental gymnastics to reconcile the fact that I wanted to be a good person with the fact that, according to my upbringing, I technically wasn’t a good person anymore. This crisis overshadowed much of the fall of my third year of university and set me up for an absolute disaster of a semester academically. However, unlike a student with a terminally ill family member or a personal medical issue, there was nothing obviously wrong. Gay? Not gay? Who cares? It mattered little to anyone, except me, at my nice liberal university whether or not I was queer. Luckily, that semester I happened to have the same professor for two of my upper level (non-science) major classes who was gay and very out. I’m not sure how much I confided in him – at that time, I probably couldn’t/didn’t come out – or if any tears were involved, but he recognized and validated my internal struggle for what it was and, without further questions, made the academic arrangements that I needed to finish out that semester on a kinder timescale. That little bit of mercy kept me in the game.
I’ve mentored some really interesting and fantastic people. They have it together. They know where they are going. They know who they are. And I have to say that their easy self-knowledge continues to blow my mind. These kids are not disappointments to their families. Sure, there is pressure from their families for particular career tracks, usually to become medical doctors. There can sometimes be a little tenseness when the person they take home is of a different race or if they become vegan or change political parties. However, these things usually don’t change them into evil sinners in the eyes of society, their families of origin or in their own eyes.
For the minions I’ve mentored that fall somewhere on the rainbow spectrum, the texture of their identity shaping process resonates with my own. When I was an undergrad, Ellen came out on a sitcom, there were a ton of newspaper headlines about it and a season later the show was canceled. Things have changed a lot since then. However despite all of the recent exciting social justice victories, identity questioning and coming out remains, on a personal level, even in supportive environments, even with loving families, tremendously difficult.
When thinking about how best to mentor all your minions, but in particular the LGBTQ ones, I’ll offer up two gifts my academic parents gave to me. One was knowing that there was one (although there were rumors of one other person in a different department) very out faculty member. This person helped me through an acute crisis by being a someone I felt like I could approach to even consider asking for help; in the space of half an office hour, he validated my poorly-articulated struggle (and possibly doesn’t even recall doing anything in particular). The other was that as a UROP, I was able to meet, and sometimes exceed, the expectations set out for me in my undergraduate lab – and those expectations were focused uniquely on my project. Given my strained relationship with my family at the time, sharing that excitement with my (straight white male) mentor – someone I respected – was really important. By valuing my work, my mentor taught me that I could do work that had value and forced me to recognize that I had value as a person and as a scientist.
It is ill-advised to make a pre-mature entry into the academic job market. I made the decision months ago to sit this season out, for good reason; my big stories are currently not published.
Yesterday, my post-doc advisor told me that xe had recommended me to a department head leading a search and encouraged me to apply. I contacted my PhD advisor, who told me that xe had spoken with the same person two weeks ago. The chair is apparently interested in “grabbing youngsters before they bloom” to avoid having to “compete” for talent. The application deadline is, naturally, a few days from now. And while some exception will be made in my “special” case for late application materials, and while I have very clear ideas of research directions I’m excited about persuing, well, there won’t be much of an opportunity to work up my package.
Besides feeling somewhat obligated to apply, I do, indeed, want an academic job. Everyone knows that there aren’t many and it seems just as stupid to not apply when asked as to apply both pre-maturely and late to a single position. Assuming that once they receive my hastily put together application material they would even consider inviting me for an interview, I would relish the opportunity to go and meet the members of this department. In the unlikely event of an offer, well… I’d certainly seriously consider. And, of course, wonder.
Any opinions, internet?
Today they started marrying people in Washington. Maine and Maryland will open their court houses in the next few weeks. I must admit that I still feel a little bit dumbstruck.
My wife and I married in 2003, in Canada, before the US really entered into the business. At the time our options were limited. There had been that crazy couple of weeks in San Francisco. Massachusetts was busy trying to squirm out of their court’s ruling. And while Vermont had been issuing toothless civil union certificates for a while, we wanted to be married. We’ve been happy with our boring Canadian marriage. Aside from a short eight hours a year and a half ago following a statement from a misguided Canadian politician, our northern neighbors haven’t fought much or changed their minds. The rhetoric surrounding the struggle for marriage recognition is hateful and heated and, even if it is in a far away state, feels very personal. To chose to have our relationship recognized in a place where those attacks may be successful? On our actual personal marriage certificate? No thanks.
Election night in 2004 was a bad night for us. Recently married, we were at a little dive bar a few block from home. The mood was subdued as state after state showed up red and it became obvious early that Bush was going to win. We left early, not up to even the atmosphere of people making the best of it with the dollar pitchers. 11 states banned gay marriage that night, most by super-majorities. It hit too close to home.
Election night 2008 was a different sort of beast. As the results came in, we could hear celebrations though the windows of our apartment as our baby slept in the back room. People ran down the streets, cheering in crowds and hugging each other. But three more states had banned marriage – including the bitterly fought Prop 8 in California, particularly terrible because unlike other bans that were banning things that were already banned, the people were voting to take away something people already had. I was surprised by how much it hurt, which was rendered more poignant in contrast with the celebratory atmosphere.
This past big election was a little different than the last two. Yes, marriage was on the ballot, again. Only this time, the propositions were to legalize marriage, not ban it. And this time, for the first time, a majority of people voted FOR marriage. I still feel a little dazed. But the results are the results and today there are pictures of couple after couple after couple at the city hall in Seattle, holding marriage certificates and wearing huge smiles. It’s personal this time too, but in a good way.