Apr 10 2012 Published by under Uncategorized

Neither my grad nor my post-doc PI was the type to say no to a photo op, and so I became accustomed to the ritual early on: the scrambling to find a clean lab coat for them to wear for the interview, the pulling up of spreadsheets and closing of Snood  windows on the lab computers, the setting up of “I’m doing science!” type activities on the benches.

On one particularly memorable day, my post-doc PI burst into the lab Cosmo Kramer-style, and frantically ran down the length of the room, poking his head into each of the bays. “How is NO ONE doing bench work right now?!!” he yelled. “PBS is here!” The truth of the matter was that most of our research didn’t involve a ton of daily bench work, so it was not at all unusual to find the shakers and microcentrifuges sitting silent. Looking up from my Google Reader very complicated data set, I offered, "Do you want me to, like, pipet something?"

He pledged his eternal gratitude, and I quickly set up a rack of 1.5ml microcentrifuge tubes next to a beaker of distilled H2O as the cameras began to roll.

Last week, I was asked to participate in a video for NJU commencement, and an eerie sense of deja vu washed over me as I doted around the lab, making sure everyone was wearing their appropriate PPE. We'd gotten a couple of good action shots when the videographer said, "You know what we really need? One of those shots where you're holding up a tube and looking at it." "Yes!" I exclaimed. "We scientists do that all the time!"  And so we searched the lab for a passable colored liquid, finally settling on one of our pH standards. We were all cracking up, but awesome grad student managed to keep a straight face as he did the honors.

Doesn't he look so...sciencey?

20 responses so far

  • Dr. Koshary says:

    This is brilliant. It brings up the question for me of what else people outside our disciplines (and outside academia) think our daily routines look like. No doubt those old Far Side cartoons would make good commentary here.

    And yes, the dude looks uber-sciencey. :D

  • Kelly Oakes says:

    I'm ashamed to say I've been one of the people asking a scientist to "do something more sciencey" in the past (for a student project, not anything more exciting unfortunately!). And yet, I'd be the first person to point out something on TV that's obviously been done just for the cameras.

    It's like some weird, very specific view of science we feel we need to project in order for something to pass as proper science. I wonder how many people actually believe it?

  • DJMH says:

    Actually I DO look into Falcon tubes, but the question on my face is usually not so much, "What miraculous science cure lurks in this tube?" as it is, "Why the *&%$$& didn't this shit dissolve??"

  • Zuska says:

    Awesome grad student...he blinded me...with SCIENCE!!!!!!!!

  • Annika says:

    Haha, so true. I had to do a photoshoot for the bio dept. when I was an undergrad and what should end up on the front of the departmental brochure but me inexplicably wearing safety glasses and pipetting a pH standard while standing next to a microcentrifuge that was opened *toward the camera.*

  • HennaHonu says:

    A legitimate tube check is for your salt-precipitated nucleic acids during an extraction... but the tube is pretty small.

    • A says:

      Spot on! I always stare at the tube with wide eyes to spot that speck of salt-precipitated nucleic acid after having spent several steps prior to get to that stage!

  • JoshUCA says:

    My old PI did the same thing when I was in grad school. He came in one day and said the photographers would be here tomorrow to take some action shots for the university's website. Of course, I come in the next day and no one is in the lab except me. So the photographer shows up and I get all dressed up in the proper PPE and stare questioningly into a vial of unknown compound. My boss wasn't around and didn't see the picture until in was on the website. He was very happy that I took the time to put on the proper PPE! He said it made it look more "sciencey!"

  • Pascale says:

    Food coloring! Always keep food coloring in the lab so you can pipette mysterious colored liquids! So photogenic! Especially if you add just a bit of dry ice to a beaker of green fluid!

  • Drugmonkey says:

    You saying my generic looking desk w/ cascading stacks of manuscript and grant drafts, stained by coffee rings with yesterday's lunch Tupperware flung to the side isn't "sciency"?

  • gerty-z says:

    fantastic! is it wrong that I want to "meme" this, like a lolcat?

  • Cheryl says:

    I did my PhD in an atmospheric chemistry laser lab and we didnt have lab coats since we did gas phase stuff. Film crew came, and of course asked us to put on lab coats "So that you actually look like scientists" so we had to scrounge neighbor labs for ones to borrow. They did appreciate the trays of liquid nitrogen we placed on the optics bench to make the laser beams really visible though, because of course, that's how I always run the lasers.

  • joehanson says:

    When you gaze into the 50 mL conical, it also gazes into you.

  • Postdoc says:

    I worked in a more theoretical/computational group as a grad student. On several occasions, camera crews showed up to document us for some publicity piece related to a grant or prize. Unsurprisingly, 99% of our work involved staring at code or inspecting data files. Totally unphotogenic, and we were told so. We developed a practice of emailing one person (usually me) the most colorful plots we had developed in the past six months--even if they were based on preliminary or stupid data--and I would open all of them up on my screen and then take a screenshot. One person or maybe a small group of people would then pose contemplatively in front of these really glamorous and high-dimensional plots. I still have the files around ('pretty_science_1.jpg', 'pretty_science_2.jpg', etc.) for convenience. Heck, maybe I should start a pretty plot sharing group on flickr. (Hint: wavelets always look hot.)

    • Violet in Twilight says:

      LOL @ wavelets! My work is also mostly staring at computer code. Having colorful 3D surface plots or filled contours are no less useful in other non-specialist presentations.

  • FunkDoctorX says:

    A little late to the game here, but while a grad student we had a similar situation, a photo shoot for the department website. So we setup next to one of our microscopes and stare at some inane picture....then, being the only lab member with a beard, I was asked to "stroke my beard" by the pretty lady with the camera. I happily obliged. It's now known as the "beard stroke" picture....

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