Wednesday marks my last day working at the lab that has been my nine-to-five this summer (I’m headed to Japan for a week and a bit, tell you about it when I get back!). What do I have to show for my time? About 50 Western blots. And a head full of knowledge about What Makes a Good Researcher, brought to you by All the Reasons I Am Not One.
1) You need to have common sense, AKA not be a spaz. I, on the other hand, set an accidental ethanol fire on the benchtop. No joke. I was putting bacteria on petri dishes, for which you use a wire triangle that you dip in ethanol and then flame on a Bunsen burner. I spilled a little ethanol on the bench, but did I wipe it up? Not I. “It’s volatile, it’ll dry in a jiffy,” I thought, continuing on my merry Bunsen burner way. Well, volatile = flammable fumes = sizeable puddle of flaming alcohol.
2) You need to be meticulous. Whereas I have never really liked wearing gloves, mostly because they never fit and my dexterity suffers accordingly. I also rarely get sick, so contamination precautions to me can be more guidelines than hard-and-fast. Yeah, this is shaping up well for me being a doctor surrounded by diseases.
Anyway, I got my scare a couple of weeks ago. I work with ethidium bromide, this chemical that fiddles with your DNA and can cause cancer. It’s nasty business, so we try to be pretty careful about where it goes. It also glows under UV light, and so as I was looking in the hood to visualize some DNA, I realized…my forearm was glowing. And my elbow. And…how did I get ethidium bromide on my shoulder?! Needless to say, I’ve been more careful, but after several weeks in lab (and years of living my flaky life), the damage probably has been done.
3) And lastly, to be a good researcher, you have to have the heart to continue even after your experiments have failed time and time again. This is what separates the people who go into research from those (like me) who seek a different career path. Everyone likes conducting research when it’s going well and you’re getting novel results and great data. It takes a different sort of mind to believe in your ideas when bad luck shuts you down, and to slog through the tedium of refining an experimental protocol or fiddling with buffers before you can even start collecting data. But I guess while the lows can be low, the highs are really high (finally having your faith in science validated is a pretty wonderful feeling).
So I’m not cut out for research…unfortunately my future career path lends itself equally poorly to careless mistakes and a low tolerance for failure. (Although I am of the firm opinion that it takes two very different personalities to be a physician vs basic scientist.) In any case, something has to change–cross your fingers that I stay vigilant against accidental fires in the hospital.