OK, I have a confession to make: I’m not a scientist.
I know I write for this kickass blog for scientists, but I mainly post about the great moments I see across social media (my day-to-day is running Abcam’s social accounts) or curate our sonic lab playlists (I have a soft spot for music). But I am not a scientist.
Over time I’ve built up a working knowledge of what a typical day for a scientist in the lab looks like, and what they might be doing at certain stages in their career, by spending time shadowing in our labs. I also throw a huge number of ridiculous questions towards Bill Hinchen on a daily basis.
It’s funny now to think about what I thought science and scientists were like before I learned the truth. Please remember that my mind has been polluted from years of exposure to sci-fi films, TV shows and video games – just like any other millennial.
1. Science is super serious
I’d envisioned silent labs and people who didn’t want to be interrupted. As much as I’m sure some labs are like this, many of them are not and have, dare I say it, the radio on. Or a playlist on. And there are conversations about Game of Thrones, not just antibody recommendations and western blot banter.
2. Technology automates most of the manual processes
Never would I have imagined so much of a scientist’s day to be taken up conducting manual tasks. I thought most of their time would be looking at and analyzing results, not painstakingly trying to get them. I had images of shiny metallic robot arms doing all the routine stuff, with lab-coated scientists huddled around screens or scopes in deep thought. How little did I know!
3. You solve things constantly
“There goes another mystery solved! Tick! Now, what’s for lunch?”. I know now that a scientist or an entire lab can be working on one particular project for years and often not get the result they’d expected or hoped for. The volume of blogs and social posts I see urging their peers not to give up and that failure is part of the journey couldn’t hit this fact home any harder.
4. Holier than thou
I presumed that a scientist wouldn’t even bother to explain what they did to me for fear that my puny brain would melt. How wrong was I. Every ‘sciency’ question I pose to a scientist, in or out of the lab, has been met with either an enthusiastic answer or a friendly metaphor to help me understand it, “So, if you imagine that the antibodies are koalas that love hugging certain branches, and these proteins on the cells we want to investigate are the branches I speak of…”
5. You all work in secret like it’s the Cold War
Now I thought there would be exceptions, but I was staggered to see the volume of conferences and meetings that are set up solely so that scientists can share their data and results. Every day on Twitter I’ll see scientists, sometimes at opposite sides of the planet, helping each other and not caring who sees it.
So there you have it. Hopefully not too embarrassing of a list for a muggle. And yes, that means I am calling all scientists wizards. Every day you work magic. This was compounded even more when we published an incredible piece by a certain Harry Potter 😲
Top 3 ridiculous things I’ve asked Bill Hinchen in the last 2 weeks
“Bill, why would you not just buy pre-racked tips? Seems silly to have to rack up tip boxes.”
“Why is everyone so scared of lab meetings? Surely it’s a nice place to share ideas and hear constructive criticism in a safe space.”
“I’ve been monitoring Twitter and I see so much negativity around #phdlife in science. Are all PhD scientists masochists at heart?”