Thursday, August 14, 2008

Are you a better listener than a five year old?

Daddy and Niecey left, I miss having them around, except for the apartment destruction it was great having them! One thing I did while they were here is test a hypothesis that I had developed using the scientific method. Remember my disclaimer, you are getting my version of this and some of my information is second hand, while I believe it to be correct there is going to be some bias, especially from the second hand information.

Step 1: Observe and state the problem/question.

Last year I decided to see how quickly I could get my work done, part of it was that I wanted to leave for my vacation early and part of it was my challenging myself, testing my limits. Well unfortunately I surpassed my limits and my right wrist had to spend about 3 months in a splint, 3 or 4 months of PT, and a steroid injection. Boss Lady and I started exploring options to help me get back to work and to be able to stay working, I found the EDP3+ ELECTRONIC LTS PIPET 100-1000UL. Pipettes are instruments that are used to obtain a specific volume of a liquid and transfer it where you want it, they are used in practically everything I do and the manual ones can be very hard on the tendons, especially if you are using it for hours everyday. I got it and proceeded to read the manual and figured out how to set it so that it only switches between the two volumes I use 99.9% of the time. Not being the most tech savvy person in the world I was quite proud of the fact that I figured this trick out and if it didn't have that feature I would have needed a second pipette since scrolling between them took too long. This pipette allows me to do my job, without it I would end up back in the splint (I occasionally use a manual to do very small tasks so know).

Enter the visiting professor. The university has been hosting several professors from different countries the last couple semesters, it is some sort of foreign exchange program for profs. Currently there is one from Northern Africa in my lab (the path lab) who has been a source of lab drama since his arrival. Dr. M went out of country not long after his arrival and so, from what I gather, Prof Wannabe was assigned to guide/help him. PW insists that he told the visiting prof what he should do and he shouldn't have had to be around to do anything at that point. Well obviously there was/is a misunderstanding because the visiting prof hung around the lab and either asked people to help him or offered to help people who were working, signifying he was bored and either had nothing to do or didn't know what to do.

Often when I refuse his help he will ask if he can watch me work, I can't think of a polite way of refusing that, this is where the cultural difference is rather apparent to me (that and when he said something about women being fragile). People from different cultures have a different idea of the amount of personal space one needs, unfortunately for me his has a very small circle whereas Americans tend to have a rather large one (try it, walk up to someone you are not close to and see how close you can get before they get uncomfortable, just don't get arrested I don't have that many readers!), I learned this in speech class as an undergrad and have had it reinforced often in the past month. Trying to do precise work with someone standing within a foot of me is very nerve wracking! The first time he watched me work I was cranky, I had a tube break and the humidity messed with my plates making it take an extremely long time for the samples to soak into the agar. He kept telling me I had spread long enough and it was spread even, which would have been true for any other organism but mine for whatever reason HAS to soak in 100% or the plate will be crap, I kept telling him this but he either didn't understand or he was just saying it to break the silence (I was somewhat ignoring him so he would get bored and leave me alone).

After awhile, he asked if he could look at my fancy pants electronic pipette, I did NOT like this idea (having younger siblings made me territorial and this instrument is essential for me to work) but couldn't think of a very polite way to refuse so I handed it to him and politely and very clearly telling him NOT TO PUSH THE BUTTONS please. I put it in his hand and turned and started spreading a plate, this literally took less than 5 seconds, and I heard it beep. I turned and probably gave him a stern/annoyed look and told him NOT TO PUSH THE BUTTONS again, this time perhaps not as politely. I keep spreading and hear the second beep, he had pushed the suck up/dispense buttons and once again I told him NOT TO PUSH THE BUTTONS, my tone was likely getting annoyed. Then he pushed the scroll buttons a couple times, so far all these buttons are ones that won't do anything "harmful" and I once again tell him NOT TO PUSH THE BUTTONS while I am spreading, trying to look at the plate so I don't screw it up, but at the same time watching what is being done to my precious. We are at the point where there are two buttons left unmolested. He hits the one labeled "Reset", I am not exactly sure what that one does but have pressed it without it doing anything so repeated my request that he NOT TO PUSH THE BUTTONS and didn't panic until I saw his finger heading straight for the last button, the menu button. With that it was over, I did not bother to ask (he obviously had a broken listen as my father would say, if you count it out I asked him 5 times to not push the buttons) I grabbed it out of his hand and set it on the lab bench away from him and I don't believe I said another word to him until he finally retreated to the lab office. Pushing the menu button is how one changes the settings, since I set it so long ago I do not remember how to set it and if he managed to unset it then I would have had to stop what I was doing in the middle of it, let my remaining samples sit out and go to my office to find the manual so that I could hopefully reset it.

I was quite livid, I am pretty confident that his not listening to me was not a language barrier issue but one of blatant disrespect. His english is not perfect but I am quite sure it is not to the point where he could not understand "do not push the buttons". A day or two later I was in the lab office loitering and he started going through his list of credentials, what degrees he got, in what, what he does for a living and where... Then he told me he is a professor not a baby, and he didn't need to be treated like a baby and I think something about how he wouldn't have messed up my pipette (he is not the easiest person to understand) because he is a professor(???). This got me thinking and the more I thought about it the more his comparison made sense, I had treated him similarly to how I would have treated Niecey or Buggy if either of them were being naughty and not listening, though I probably wouldn't have given either of them so many chances (I may be indulgent but I am not THAT indulgent with them, I am sensing Baby Sibling's "nuh uh" so I will preemptively say "uh huh!" now). And this got me thinking further and I began speculating as to whether my 5 year old niece, who is not known for her listening skills, would listen to me better than a full grown man of the visiting prof's credentials, this is the "problem".

Step 2: Form a hypothesis that will answer/explain the problem.

My 5 year old niece will listen to me better than the visiting professor and take longer before pushing the buttons than he did.

Step 3: Experiment to test the validity of the hypothesis.

For the first experiment I brought Niecey to the lab, ethanol washed the pipette, told her clearly not to touch the buttons and to just hold the pipette for me and handed it to her. Result: after 30 seconds she had not yet touched the buttons and I got bored and thanked her and she gave me back the pipette.

For the second experiment I did the same thing except this time I was plating and therefore using the pipette in the same manner I did when the visiting prof was there (much better experimental design), remember I didn't even get one plate done before he pushed the buttons. I asked if she could be my pipette holder while I plated and that she not press the buttons while holding it, she agreed. Result: I spread all the plates for that set and she handed me back my pipette when I finished not pressing any buttons the entire time (she had bored of this after one set and so I only got one rep in of this experiment).

Step 4: Analyze Results and Draw Conclusion(s).

Based on two experiments both of which resulting in the 5 year old not pushing any buttons after being asked not to and the fact that she loves to press buttons (data not shown), I accept my hypothesis and conclude that my 5 year old niece is a better listener than the visiting prof.

Step 5 is reporting the results, which I have done here. And just so everyone knows this post was written for entertainment value and the visiting prof can be quite pleasant and I get along with him most of the time, I just don't trust him with my pipette. We settled our differences after he accused me of treating him like a baby, and I am willing to say that perhaps I did treat him like a baby but given the circumstances I feel my actions were justified. I think it is very interesting when we have someone from a different culture around and can exchange ideas and knowledge, which is what the program is all about, but of course there are bound to be conflicts when you get people together who view things differently and this is a great opportunity for us to learn to deal with these conflicts in a manner that benefits all, an essential skill given how everything is going global these days.

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