You are not using a standards compliant browser. Because of this you may notice minor glitches in the rendering of this page. Please upgrade to a compliant browser for optimal viewing:
Internet Explorer 7
Safari (Mac and PC)
Post Archive
2020 (0)
2011 (4)
February (2)

PSA: It's cold, buy a Carbon Monoxide Detector.
Thursday, February 10, 2011

Cold Fusion
Tuesday, February 1, 2011
January (2)

Going back
Thursday, January 27, 2011

Fun with Jackass
Wednesday, January 26, 2011
2010 (33)
December (4)

The 12 days of (Lab) Christmas
Friday, December 24, 2010

I really hope there isn't a number 3
Thursday, December 9, 2010

So why don't you have more papers?
Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Picking a project
Thursday, December 2, 2010
November (2)October (7)

As promised: Geeka and A Cow
Saturday, October 23, 2010

Finishing something
Saturday, October 23, 2010

A cartwheeling Geeka
Monday, October 18, 2010

Some Classroom got funded, I get embarrassed.
Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Bounty for Donor's Choose
Wednesday, October 6, 2010

If I couldn't be a scientist
Tuesday, October 5, 2010

That's not the shape of his head.
Friday, October 1, 2010
September (6)

Glutton for Punishment
Saturday, September 25, 2010

I talk to machines.
Friday, September 24, 2010

World's worst Journal Club.
Monday, September 20, 2010

The IACUC Chair
Thursday, September 16, 2010

Hell, I did know then, I just didn't know it until it hit me.
Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Stuff Geeka Likes: The Toys Edition
Wednesday, September 1, 2010
August (9)

How I ended up a scientist.
Saturday, August 28, 2010

Monday morning crapped on my head.
Monday, August 23, 2010

Naming your equipment
Thursday, August 19, 2010

Stuff Geeka Likes: Inaugural edition
Thursday, August 12, 2010

Silent Squee
Wednesday, August 11, 2010

In which I come clean
Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Having a bad day
Monday, August 9, 2010

My blogging philosophy
Friday, August 6, 2010

Balance? We don't need no stinking balance.
Tuesday, August 3, 2010
July (5)
Rate This Post
Total votes: 3
Blogger Profile


Hi! I'm Geeka. I've been a scientist for, I don't know, it seems like forever, I guess since I started college, so, like 15 years? Anyhow, this is where I'm going to give my take on a bunch of stuff. I'm usually a little bit out there (that is, I don't see the obvious at the outset), which means that you are probably going to have to deal with reading such topics as: Interpersonal relationship training for scientists, my lab pet peeves, how to get along in business when you just came straight out of academia, trying to deal with having a life and being a scientist, really odd topics for a paper, random stuff I found on the internet that made me shoot coffee out of my nose, you know, (ab)normal Geeka. Why the title? Because at the very heart of me, I'm a virologist, and while I don't necessarily do that now, it's how I view the scientific world.

My posts are presented as opinion and commentary and do not represent the views of LabSpaces Productions, LLC, my employer, or my educational institution.

Blog RSS Feed
RSS Add to My Yahoo Add to Google
Tuesday, September 7, 2010

The thing about "If I knew then, what I know now", is that there always someone that does. You are all reading this right now, presumably, because you want to know now what years of experience will bring you. It's a shortcut. I'm kind of harsh about people trying to get around experiential learning, mostly because we are scientists, and we should be learning by experience, but also because I had someone tell me everything I needed to know about being in my graduate PI's lab. I didn't listen. However, there were times in which I would sit down, be quiet, and realize that "Holy Shit, this is what Dave told me. Exactly."

When I did a rotation in the lab that ended up being my graduate lab, the senior student was a loud, fun-loving, brash, brilliant, beaten, gregarious guy named Dave. Dave was still excited about his project. He loved science. He was ~1 year away from defending. I ended up joining that lab because of him. I did a lot of things because of him, and I *still* talk to him. In fact, when I graduated, he flew me to his company so that I could have practice interviewing at biotech places.

Here are some things that he told me.

1. Nothing is going to work your first year. This is a time for you to be dealing with classes, learning techniques, and reading everything you can get your hands on. Don't worry about it, because 90% of the data that's in your dissertation will be from the last year you were in the lab.

2. Keep a good endnote library. (I use papers.)

3. You don't want to be "that person" in class, because instructors will remember that. They will especially remember that during oral exams.

4. Have at least 1 person on your committee that will stand up to your PI because he will save you. (And every time my favorite committee member did this, I was thankful).

5. You are going to want to quit. You are going to have quitting all figured out. If quitting is easy for you, this isn't the right path.

6. Stand up for yourself. Don't be afraid to be the iconoclast.

7. Do not take a project in which you have to develop the system if you want to be out in 5 years.

8. Sometimes you have to slap the taste out of someone's mouth.

9. The technicians will never be your friends (Note: this is specific to that lab, for reasons related to management.)

10. Have something you love outside of lab.

11. If you haven't spent all of your stipend by the end of the month, you aren't trying hard enough. (In reference to blowing off steam, and regional beer selections.)

12. Do not sleep with anyone in the department.

13. Your friends in the department are going to keep you sane. They are the only ones that will keep you going.

14. Don't call him a jackass to his face. (In reference, obviously, to Jackass. But I think that calling your PI names is probably a bad idea.)

15. Sometimes science works out so that it's not you that's causing the problem. Sometimes it's important to have an 'experimenter' control.

16. He gives you the money and the opportunity. (In reference to the PI.)

17. He's not going to respect you until you can go one-on-one against him in science and win. (The day that this happened resulted in a week of my PI and I not speaking to each other. He eventually came to me an apologized.)

18. People fuck up. It's not the end of the world. You'll remember it, and not do it again.

19. For the love of god, take good notes. A monkey should be able to follow your lab notebook and get the same results.

20. If you need a piece of equipment to do your experiments to graduate, you should be in charge of it, and guard it with your life.

21. Pay attention in stats class. It still won't make any sense. But the stats department will do all of your stats for you. They get PhD's to do it. How fair is that?

22. Never lose your common sense. Sometimes they just are Wylie E. Coyote ideas.

23. Have someone outside of your lab that knows enough about your project to edit writing for you.

24. Do not become friends with your PI. (In retrospect, I have broken this rule during my last year.)

25. Rap music keeps the PI out of the lab.

26. Beer when it's good, bourbon when it's bad.

27. Science is fun, but have a focus. Yours should be graduating.

28. Have an outline and boxes to check.

29. The woman the edits the dissertations is insane. You will spend more time getting it into her format than you did writing the introduction.

30. Go take as many classes for computer software as you can.

31. Knowing more will help you. Knowing less will hurt you. You can't know everything. You can know the most about what you work on. You are the subject expert. Your defense should be you teaching the world. You rock.

32. Don't cry in the hall.

33. Go to meetings if they are somewhere fun.

34. Talk to your competition before they know that you are theirs.

35. There is always a golden boy, don't try to be him. The pressure is always worse.

I went into the lab thinking that Dave and Jackass had a different sort of relationship. The stories I heard...ugh. I decided at the beginning that because of this, it was unfair to judge based on Dave's experience, and I should strike out on my own. As I went further and further in my years, I realized that Dave was right. Dave was right about mostly everything. The thing is, I don't know if I would have payed attention to any of these things, that I would have had an easier time. Mostly his advice was to recognize the things that were happening, which, as scientists, we should be doing anyhow. I think that by giving me all of these nuggets of wisdom, he set me up to realize that these things were happening, and by recognizing them, I learned from them.

Over the time in the lab, I was responsible for several rotation students. One of them joined the lab. He actually just graduated. He told me once that he joined the lab because of me. At that point, I felt that everything had come full circle because I had joined the lab because of Dave. I hope that I have given that student at least 1/8th of the opportunity for wisdom that Dave gave me.

This post has been viewed: 373 time(s)

Blog Comments

biochem belle
Rate Post:

Like 0 Dislike
Dave sounds very much like the guy I worked with during the rotation in what would become my graduate lab :)

The funny thing about such advice is that newbie grad students and postdocs always think things are somehow going to be different with them. PIs don't change. The thing that varies is how everyone else reacts or deals with a situation, which can create very different experiences. But it's critical to realize the commonality in those experiences.

All in all, some very sound advice.

Prabodh Kandala
Texas Tech University Health Science Center
Rate Post:

Like 0 Dislike
I bet, even if you had shared your experiences with your junior grad student, he would have realized only at the end of his graduation.

Genomic Repairman
Rate Post:

Like 0 Dislike
I use some fucked up hybrid combination of Papers and Endnote. Endnote is primarily used just for citations and Papers is where I keep all my PDFs and notes that I input about papers so that way I can read them on my iPod Touch.

Brian Krueger, PhD
Columbia University Medical Center
Rate Post:

Like 0 Dislike

That list was hilarious, Geeka. It sounds like Dave had a similar relationship that I had with my PhD mentor. Respect didn't come until there was a rock bottom bare knuckled brawl in his office that could have been heard 2 floors above and below us.

Rate Post:

Like 0 Dislike
Brian, I'm in biotech now, and I still read papers. I don't read 'hard copies' unless I'm seriously going to mark them up.

GR: That's pretty much what I use too.

Washington University School of Medicine
Rate Post:

Like 0 Dislike
That list could have applied to my grad school lab almost verbatim.

Rate Post:

Like 0 Dislike
Yeah. No 12. Good idea. Really good idea :/

Genomic Repairman
Rate Post:

Like 0 Dislike
Yeah I'm agreeing with Tiddles on 12 too. Don't shit where you eat.

Rate Post:

Like 0 Dislike
Indeed. Nor should you have sex with your colleagues/peers. At least until after graduation.
Add Comment?
Comments are closed 2 weeks after initial post.