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December (3)

It's not "goodbye," it's...
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Two weeks
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Interviews, for reals!
Thursday, November 18, 2010

Can I get a pdf of this?
Thursday, November 18, 2010

SfN 2010 Day 5: A video featuring Tideliar and Dr Becca
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SfN Day 2 (better late than never)
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SfN 2010, Day 1: a video blog featuring Tideliar and Dr Becca
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30,000 people is not actually that many people
Wednesday, November 10, 2010

We have a winner, and a cocktail!
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You. Immortalized. In a cocktail.
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Time for BANTER!!!
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Your PowerPoint and You
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Have I told you lately that I love you?
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So I have an Interview.
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It's bribe time
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Research Blogging: The Postpartum Brain
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That time I was on TV
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What?! Only 300 thread-count and no robe? Two stars!
Tuesday, October 5, 2010
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Thursday, September 30, 2010

Let me give you my card
Thursday, September 23, 2010

I gotta have some of your attention, give it to me!
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My Science Enemy
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What I wish I knew before...I moved to New York City
Tuesday, September 7, 2010
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Dr Becca, Ph.D.

Dr Becca can now be found at .

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

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Comment by marguerite in SABOTAGE!!!

So nice to know I'm not the only paranoid one. :-) But sad to know that sometimes "just because you're paranoid, doesn't mean their not after you". :-( **Off to go check prices for tiny cam. . .Read More
Jan 10, 2011, 8:39pm
Comment by Lab Mom in It's not "goodbye," it's...

Best of luck over in your new digs! We'll miss you! . . .Read More
Dec 17, 2010, 9:32pm
Comment by JaySeeDub in It's not "goodbye," it's...

Awww...does this mean no ex-scientist restaurant? Google reader has been updated! . . .Read More
Dec 17, 2010, 8:41pm
Comment by NatC in It's not "goodbye," it's...

It's been an exciting few weeks for you! Congrats on this (and surviving your first TT interview), I'll definitely be commuting over to continue following your adventures! . . .Read More
Dec 17, 2010, 1:07pm
Comment by Tideliar in It's not "goodbye," it's...

Wow! Congratulations Becca! . . .Read More
Dec 17, 2010, 12:37pm
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Thursday, September 30, 2010

I can't believe a whole day has gone by and no one else at LabSpaces has jumped on this one.  Well it's mine, all mine!! 

If you've been on the internet at all today, you probably at least saw a mention of the U Mich sabotage case. You did, right?  I mean, my friend who is a lawyer saw it. In case you were not on the internet today, here is the synopsis: a grad student noticed that her stuff was all wonky, and after dealing with the police and whatnot and through hidden cameras, she caught a post-doc in her lab pouring ethanol into her media!!! Are we all shappalled? (why this portmanteau cracks me up so much may be due to the gin. It's completely possible.)

We are not shappalled, right?  It's something we feel is totally within the realm of reality, and that we quietly suspect of that person in our lab who we think doesn't like us, but we don't know why. And seriously, shit doesn't go your way all the time, does it not?  Your western lanes are all weird, or your cells die or whatever, and at first you think you are a terrible scientist, and then you think that maybe someone is messing with your stuff!  And your friends are all, no, you're being paranoid, but then you install hidden cameras, and someone is TOTALLY messing with your stuff!!!!

The thing that really scares me is that in this particular case, the grad student and post-doc weren't even "competing," by which I mean they weren't in some (VERY REAL) situation where a PI gives like 5 of his or her trainees the exact same project and whoever gets the answer first gets a Nature paper. The post-doc just felt generally stressed and pressured, and was compelled to slow his lab mate's research. This is super sad, because I mean really, we are ALL stressed and pressured!! All of us!!!!! But do we go messing up our lab mates' research? NO, RIGHT??? If you are, you should probably turn yourself in, as there's likely already a hidden camera somewhere watching you. And this post-doc--whose wife is apparently pregnant--his career is over. 

It's sad. It's sad because no one goes into science research with the mentality that they will do crazy, unethical things to succeed; you go into science research because you think science is awesome, right? It is!! That it has the capacity to turn people into sneaky, unscrupulous saboteurs, well, it just seems to go against everything that science is about in the first place.

And I'm sorry, but I can't post about a sabotage without a little Beasties, especially when they were just nominated for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame!! 

Beastie Boys - Sabotage
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See, I was gonna comment about how some people might just go into science because that's where one can get a visa to the US, but one would expect someone with that motivation would be LESS inclined to risk this kind of insanity.

All I can say is that the "some people" who Ross consulted with- who brushed it off as the student hitting a rough patch- should be deeply ashamed. As should, perhaps, Ross herself. Going to regulatory affairs? Reasonable. Having them sic public safety and a lie detector test on her grad student? MESSED UP. Actually, from hints elsewhere in the article, it sounds like she DID eventually do right by her student

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I was so confused when I read that article, because the times didn't seem to match up. When I was at UM several years ago, the word on the street was that a different grad student had caught someone messing with her culture dish lids and that hidden cameras had caught that person (who was of a different gender and nationality than the guy in this story). And the article said something about how no one knew what to do because this hadn't happened there before! I mean, maybe no one involved with this occurrence knew about the previous one, but maybe they should. Getting the police involved would seem to keep these incidences more publicized and maybe provide a better deterrent to potential saboteurs.

And because I don't want to make my alma mater look like a cesspool of unscrupulous saboteurs, I'll add that at a conference once, I ended up hanging out with a group of scientists who were roughly my age and knew each other from working in a different country, and they were positively giggling about all the times they switched out people's clear, colorless buffers for different things - just because they didn't like them.

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Really? He did it because he was stressed out and wanted to slow other people down?
Why are we so willing to blame this on the stress of science?
Maybe I'm naive, or have thought too much about psychiatric disorders, but this is NOT a normal response to the stress of experiments not working. It sounds more like the guy is seriously disturbed, and if he wasn't in science he'd be most likely sabotaging someone somewhere else in some other way.
Am I the only one who's morbidly curious about the results of a psychiatric evaluation?

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He's probably just a bit of a narcissist and couldn't bear being up-staged. Folks that do such things usually have a very limited repetoire of problem-solving skills and his actions were likely more motivated in leveling the playing field so as to keep himself competitive, than in attacking that person personally - it coudln't of been anyone in the lab, but my guess is that person was the most successful, senior or popular person in that lab.
That's a guess, mind you - but someone's gotta sit on the arse-hole end bell curve...

Candid Engineer
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Fucked up, that is pretty much the thing. I am *so* glad I work in a collegial environment. Given the millions of people in my lab, the potential for sabotage is high and it would be nearly impossible to track the fucker down. All it takes though is one bad apple, and how are you ever really supposed to know, short of installing cameras...

Brian Krueger, PhD
Columbia University Medical Center
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I had someone in grad school who would constantly turn off my shaking incubator in the common area cold room. It pissed me off so much that I moved it to the refrigerator in our lab. I wanted to install hidden cameras, but they're freaking expensive :P

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@NatC- it *IS*, however, probably a 'normal' (as in common, as in could happen to you or me, not as in good or acceptable) response to a perpetual bullying scenario. On his worst days, my boss really seems like he can't sit still in lab unless he is criticizing someone. It really motivates you to do something- ANYTHING- not to be the person held lowest in his esteem.
(NB- my boss is not evil, just cranky. But it's enough that I could at least IMAGINE what it would be like if he were like that all the time, not just rarely and when things go outstandingly badly... I look at the postdoc idiot in this story and say 'there but for the grace of FSM...').
If you've ever giggled about someone relabeling their own buffers to keep others from using them without asking... well, it's probably only a matter of being put in the right situation.
There are a lot of responses to finding out how common this kind of thing is... like "agh! how scary! but he must be REALLY nuts", or "the situation must have been worse than it appears" (I'm so glad I'm in a good situation), or "there must have been some unmentioned personal tension between them" (suggested on the comments in the second link)- all of those are attempts to make things reconcilable with our realities, whilst putting in some kind of box so as to distance it from ourselves.

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@Becca - to be clear, by abnormal I mean "clinically relevant". We all know stories of sabotage (although stories of sabotage/scientists known is incredibly small). But my point is that the situation per se is not the culprit. The individual makes a decision to act. What makes them do something so clearly wrong? We all know many many many more people in stressful lab (or work) situations, many of us have been there ourselves, yet most people do not resort to sabotage. Given the reaction to this story, most people find this behavior completely abhorrent. What makes a very tiny minority of people cross that line?
For example -if the people in your lab would do ANYTHING not to be the person targeted by your boss, why have people so far restrained themselves from sabotage?

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I don't find it so surprising. The fact that somebody is a scientist doesn't make him/her a morally stable person. I am sure there are thousands of scientist in jail for multiple crimes. Nice people in the comments above forget that there are people around that are NOT nice, just spiteful.

Thomas Joseph
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It's sad. It's sad because no one goes into science research with the mentality that they will do crazy, unethical things to succeed; you go into science research because you think science is awesome, right?

I'm going to have to blog about this again, soon. I don't think everyone goes into science research because they think it's awesome. For some people, it's a way to make a living, and if that they feel that that living is jeopardized in some fashion ... they'll do strange things.

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To be clear, recognizing human frailties we all have in common does not exculpate antisocial behavior. But, if the goal is to understand this kind of behavior, I think it's only going to mislead us to look ONLY at the individual (or ONLY at the situation they are in). It's easy to say "oh that's just a bad person" or even "oh, that's just a poor, clinically crazy person"... it's harder to say "I have a moral responsibility to stay out of situations that might drive me to that, and to rescue other people from such situations".

I don't actually know for sure why others haven't engaged in sabotage. I'd suspect some combination of: *legitimate personal appreciation of other people *not worth the risk *didn't even occur to them (it certainly never occurred before this) *a recognition of 'this too shall pass' when it comes to my PI *maybe I'm just projecting, and they don't really feel as uncomfortable with him as I do.
So if we wanted to prevent it, I'd say collegiality is the first step. And getting people mental health treatment, and perhaps interpersonal relationship aid. There are a LOT of situations where two sane individuals drive each other crazy.

@Thomas Joseph- You've got a good point, but I'm not sure I see the root cause the same way you do. Based on Maslov, I'd argue that anytime somebody's ability to make a living is threatened, they are more prone to make irrational decisions. It doesn't matter why you got INTO science, once you need to do it to eat you are at risk.

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The post-doc just felt generally stressed and pressured, and was compelled to slow his lab mate's research.

You mean The post-doc was generally just a total fucking asshole and mentalist who fucked someone's shit up for no reason and blamed it on competition stress?

That whole thing about stress and competition is fucking bullshit. It's clear in the story he was a second rate lab rate and all that happened was that he was so second rate he hated being out performed by a (female) grad student. I guaran-motherfucking-tee he was only in the lab 9-5, never worked late and never came in on weekends when he should have.

He's just a misogynistic lazy, second rate fuckstain who fucked a lot of people's shit up for no reason other than being a lazy second rate fuckstain. If it had been my lab, it would have been "handled internally" with a motherfucking blowtorch and pair of pliers.

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Oh, and if you're fucking stupid enough to write the media/cell-line on the motherfucking lid of your dish you fucking deserve to be beaten round the head and neck with a rabid fucking possum.

I mean fuck, cell culture 1-oh-motherfucking-1 - lids fall off, get swapped, get splashed. Seriously is the world full of fucking inbreds?

Thomas Joseph
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@tideliar: The same holds true for microbiological cultures. We learned right quick to write everything important on the bottom of the petri dish.

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Agree with Tideliar and Thomas Joseph - if you are writing on the lids, you are NOT smart. But did no one else think that the postdoc could easily take a tissue with some ethanol to the bottom of the dish? rather easy...though immediately traceable.

I've never been in a lab that messed with one another - thank goodness. I mean, yes, we did have our dry-ice Eppendorf bombs. yes. there was the occasional gel apparatus that ended up with someone's labelling tape all over it because the person was superstitious and decided that one "always worked", which we made fun of and stole sometimes, but it was all in a collegial notion.

It's stories like this that make me happy to be out of the lab. My job is probably sabotage-able, but thankfully my reputation is intact enough that unless sabotage happened regularly, it would be forgotten quickly. Sadly, for those that live and die by the published paper, that sort of leeway isn't given.
Kevin Z

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Strange in all the labs I've worked in we usually feed off each others successes. When one of us are rocking, the rest tend to get excited and work a little harder so we have totally awesome results too. But then again ecologists and marine biologists are not quite as tight-assed as you molecular biologist types ;p

Genomic Repairman
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I agree with Kevin, in lab we all kind of ride a collective wave. When one of us surges up, it generally helps either through assistance or motivation to pull us all up there on top too. And this kind of happens when someone hits the doldrums as well but we tend to snap out of our funks as well.

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well, the thing that made me gasp was that it went to court. Never seen that before (apart from when there was grant money, professor and misconduct with animals...). I really hope that there was more done than what was reported in the article before the installed the cameras, or did the lie detector test? (I mean, I had stuff not work for 5 months and it was not due to someone sabotaging it - pretty sure on that).

As for the whole "mislabelling bottles" and giggle. I firmly believe you should be punished for labelling a bottle with something it isn't; if nothing else since it might be a biohazard/fire risk. (not to mention that the lab environment seem that bad - you won't get good collegial talks either)

That said, nothing bad with having 1.3M Tris instead of 1M as long as you know how to dilute it - it stops from "I just borrowed some and never replaced" since it's not as convinient any more.... in case there ever was a problem with lab mates doing that... just saying... ;)

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I swear someone in my PhD lab kept turning my centrifuge runs off before they'd finished. It kept happening, on multiple machines, which ran for other people with no problem (and yes I did get someone to start a run with me to make sure I hadn't done anything weird). Nothing project-ending - they were usually just plasmid maxipreps - but frustrating, annoying, and upsetting when you don't know who or why.

Prabodh Kandala
Texas Tech University Health Science Center
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That post doc must be A**hole. I second Kevin's comment.  It is human nature that you start feeling jealous someone doing better, but then, admiring that person and learning would make you better. However, it is the path one choses. This postdoc had chosen a wrong one.

microbiologist xx
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Almost everyone in science is stressed and, thankfully, not resorting to sabotaging their lab mates experiments. Thanks to the suspicious grad student, there is one less ass hat to worry about. I too wonder if this person was told they were just being paranoid. I'm sure if someone told me they were going to install hidden cameras in the lab to catch someone sabotaging their experiments, I would probably think they were being paranoid too.

The only thing I ever accused my lab mates of was hiding or moving my timer and scissors. It seemed like some of my co-workers had just a little too much fun watching me look all over the place for these items. No one ever admitted to it and it is quite possible that I just misplaced them that often, but I've always wondered.


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Someone in our lab bought little cameras after anonymous mean notes were left for two members of the lab. It wasn't science fraud, but it was threatening enough to feel violated. And sabatoging science is just that, violating implicit trust.

The whole thing is just ridiculous. And I swear that some people are nuts.

Did anyone else see this:

Dr Becca, Ph.D.
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Joyous726, that link is hilarious! Thanks for sharing!

Washington University School of Medicine
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@Joyous OMG!! That was great!

Dr. Cynicism

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Oh my god I wish I never saw this.  Because like you alluded to, it's only going to feed our psychotic thoughts that people are secretly sabatoging our research.  I totally didn't need this reinforcement today.


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Tideliar said: Seriously is the world full of fucking inbreds?




Guest Comment

So nice to know I'm not the only paranoid one. :-) But sad to know that sometimes "just because you're paranoid, doesn't mean their not after you". :-(

**Off to go check prices for tiny cameras**

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