“Your assay is sh….” – Wed 7th Oct

I can’t remember last Friday in enough detail to tell you about it, but I can tell you I arrived at 9:15am (after a swim) and left at 5pm. We traveled to see both our families this weekend and, as we fly to see mine, that meant on Monday I booked the day off as annual leave. In the end I was really glad I did as our flight was delayed by about 2hours, and we weren’t home until well after lunchtime.

That meant Tuesday was my first day in the lab this week. After a mini disaster (left my purse at home) I arrived at the lab later than normal (9:15am). I’d forgotten to remind the person scheduled to bring cake to the lab meeting that they had to bring cake to the lab meeting, so to avoid a revolt (very real possibility) I stopped at the shop on my way in and sorted out some cake. I finally got to the lab and manged to have my bum in seat for all of 5mins when someone stuck their head around the door to announce that my undergrad was waiting for me in the lab. My who now. That’s right, without much warning at all I had an undergraduate student sprung on me. I will own up to finding out on Friday I’d had an undergrad assigned to me in the lab. I just wasn’t expecting him to show up so soon. Any plans for things to get done before the lab meeting went out the window as I had to think on my feet (boss didn’t arrive until 9:50am) and do something useful with this undergrad who’d been told to appear and find me. Very stressful. I really enjoy teaching, unfortunately I don’t enjoy it in my own lab. When I’m demonstrating for undergraduates, with time specifically put aside, I’m really patient and spend as long as needed to help them understand what they’re doing. When the students come into our lab (as the undergraduates do every new academic year) it find it really stressful. I don’t enjoy teaching when it’s combined with my own work. I love the freedom I have plan my days however suits me, and when an undergrad student is assigned to you that freedom gets lost. Undergraduates seem to function on the belief that the university, and by extension the PhD’s and post-docs, are only there to serve them. They don’t seem to always realise we have our own work and research to do.

Anyway between a lab meeting at 10am and cobbling together useful things (like making media) for the undergrad to do, my plans for the day (and most likely the week) went up in smoke. I just about managed to get something run on a gel in the afternoon and set some PCRs up to run overnight. With PubhD Leicester (@PubhDLeicester) on in the evening I stayed at the lab until 7pm (silly to go home just to come back into Leicester), and it was the last 2 undergraduate free hours where I actually managed to get anything done including a little work on the thesis plan.

The thesis plan is getting a little more detailed
The thesis plan is getting a little more detailed

After a stressful day PubhD Leicester was exactly what I needed. After some Rugby World Cup induced traffic delays we kicked off about 8pm and I was first speaker up. I spent 10mins explaining my work in what I hope was a clear and understandable way to an audience in the pub. After I spoke I was rewarded with a free drink 🙂 and got to relax and enjoy talks from two other speakers, one on paleontology and the other psychology. Really varied, really interesting and the whole evening had a great atmosphere. I stayed until just after 10pm and a merry number of ciders before my lovely boyfriend came to pick me up (sparing me the joys of the last train home).

It's very dark in duffys bar, but you can just about make out one of the speakers at Oct's PubhD Leicester
It’s very dark in duffys bar, but you can just about make out one of the speakers at Oct’s PubhD Leicester

Onto today, I arrived at 8:30am and I felt a little more prepared for the undergrad as I actually knew he would be showing up. A middle of the day meeting had been cancelled, which freed up a little time for my own work, and after asking the undergrad to arrive at 9:15am I had a time to think about how to plan my day. I got my own work started before he arrived and then I showed him how to set up some bacterial cultures. At this point I then sent him away, this is something I always used to feel bad about, I felt like I should always find something for a student I’m supervising to do, but I’ve learnt if I want to get my own work done as well I need to do this. It’s not my job to make sure he’s busy all the time. Bacteria take time to grow so I asked him to come back at 12:15pm, which left me time to do my own lab work (check gel, set up PCR, play with growth curve data on computer). He didn’t actually show up again until 12:30pm which wasn’t ideal as I had lunch plans at 1pm (yes I ended up being late). At 1:15pm I went for lunch and came back about 2pm. The undergrad had to leave at 2:30pm so I dedicated the next 30mins to explaining how serial dilutions work (in one ear and straight out the other, but hopefully we’ll get there in the end).

At 2:30pm I had a demonstrator briefing for a new unit I’m demonstrating on from tomorrow. This unit will take up my Thursday afternoons for the next 5weeks, I haven’t worked on it before but it’s a continuation of the 1st year genetics practical unit so I’m hoping it’ll go smoothly. The briefing lasted until 3pm and I then spent the next 2hours doing my own lab work, talking with the boss and placing some orders so I have everything I need for the undergrad to start doing some assays next week. A lot of the experiments I want him to do I’ve never actually done so I’m doing test runs of them to make sure I know what I’m doing (and to give me a baseline result to expect from his experiments, if today’s anything to go by I’ll definitely need this). The boss has declared one assay as sh*t, he’ll never like it, but I think I can adjust it enough to make it acceptable. He did however really quite like another of my assays so I’m declaring a 50% success rate as a win for the day.

I left at 5pm for Pilates, which was absolutely packed. The multiplication of undergraduates seems exponential this year. There are so many of them and they’re affecting all aspects of my life on campus (I’d hoped that at least Pilates would be safe, I was wrong). With an undergrad in the lab I’ve had to accept that my time in the lab between now and Christmas is going to be considerably less productive than I’d hoped. While I understand we all started somewhere, and everyone needs training, it’s known that undergraduates are a significant drain on your time. Their projects aren’t long enough to really produce many results and as they mostly come in with extremely limited practical knowledge they need a lot of supervision.

Hopefully things will get easier. My undergrad seems very nice and I want to be a good supervisor for him but I struggle with how much of my precious third year time he’s going to take up. He won’t be in the lab tomorrow so I have a day to re-group and plan so fingers crossed that’ll help. Until tomorrow everyone, thank you for reading my grumpy post 🙂 .

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