Sunday, August 3, 2008

The Lab "Family"

The majority of my time here is spent in one of two places, my apartment or the building I work in. My title is taking on a whole new meaning isn't it? Yeah, that is why I chose it, I was amused with its double meaning, I'm a microbiologist and I don't have much of a "life". But just because my life occupies such a small area doesn't mean that nothing happens within it. Almost daily I am exposed to, and sometimes participate in, the lab drama. Did you think that the lab was a place for nerds to come together and make discoveries and advance science and civilization? A friendly place where coworkers work together in harmony and keep everything spotless? Excuse me a second, HAHAHAHAHAHA!!!!!!!!!!!! Ok, I'm better. And of course I should point out that not all labs have the crazy drama that mine has, I've worked in several that everyone basically got along great in. The lab I am currently doing most of my work in however has some very strong character clashes which makes for a somewhat volatile workplace at times.

The main lab I work in (yes I work in/have access to more than one, I'll probably explain later), is a biosafety level II lab. A level I lab works with bacteria that generally do not cause illness in humans (not sure if animal or plant pathogens are allowed), level two is for pathogens that aren't that dangerous (they only kill some of the people), level III lab works with the more dangerous bugs, not sure if there is a level IV or higher under this system but if there were it would be for the scary bugs that only crazy people work with (I may be crazy but I am not THAT crazy!). The level II lab I work in works with food borne pathogens (they make people sick) and sometimes food spoilage organisms (they make food go bad but don't make people sick). For the pathogen research it is mainly Listeria monocytogenes (really dangerous for small children, the elderly, people with low immune systems, and most scary pregnant women and unborn babies), E. coli O157:H7 (most E. coli strains are safe and potentially beneficial, O157:H7 is the black sheep of the group and one nasty bug, especially to the very young and old), Salmonella, and Staphylococcus aureus (this one you mostly hear about in hospital infections, multiple antibiotic resistant strains are known as MRSA, it can also cause food poisoning, won't kill you in that case but for awhile you wish it would!).

Then there is me, I work with four species of Bifidobacteria, they are a kind of bacteria that are GRAS (Generally Recognized As Safe), and many of them have properties that make them probiotics (live microorganisms that when consumed in adequate amounts provides health benefits to the host). If you were to visit my lab and given the choice between licking one of my plates (plate = petri dish/plate, a shallow plastic dish with a lid used for growing bacteria and other microorganisms) or someone else's plates I would definitely recommend mine (not that I have tried it, licking plates is wrong on so many levels and they are cultured in the path lab!), or V's since she is working with my bugs for her project too.

Now that you know the bugs here are the people:

Boss Lady: Boss Lady is the professor I work for, she is way more than just my boss, she is my mentor, my major professor, my PI (principle investigator) and more. Boss Lady is not a microbiologist, she is a chemist, I often call myself her "pet microbiologist". Her lab is a chemistry lab (I keep trying to get her to convert it to micro) so I don't do much work in there, it is mainly a place I keep supplies so I won't be cluttering the path lab with my stuff and a place I hide when things get too crazy upstairs and I need to go to a quiet and relatively clean lab. I am Boss Lady's only grad student at the moment, one graduated just as I started working for her and the other graduated a year ago (I miss her terribly). The great thing about being a microbiology grad student doing micro projects for a chemist is that instead of everything being worked out with Boss Lady and I, we usually have one or two other professors collaborating with us and so I am learning how to communicate with a group of professionals. The main microbiologist we collaborate with is Dr. M., it is his lab I do the majority of my work in and will talk about the most.

Dr. M: He is great, lets me work in his lab, answers my weird/stupid questions and is one of the nicest people.

M: Dr. M's son, he tends to help do the prep work when there is a lot of media or something needed, he is a good kid.

V: She is a fellow grad student working under a different professor than mine, she somehow got suckered into working on a yogurt project that involves incorporating the Bifidobacteria into yogurt supplemented with other healthy stuff. I'm really enjoying working with her.

The Dishwasher: He is an undergrad, real sweet kid, great to work with. Like all undergrads hired by Dr. M., he has a project to work on, his job is not to just clean glassware and whatnot but to actually do research. There is a grad student that tends to believe that the undergrads should be doing the cleanup for more than just their project, I have debated him on that several times. I maintain that they are not hired to do the menial crap work, they are hired to do a project, it is not fair nor feasible to expect them to get research done and clean up after everyone else on top of their coursework, oh and they are only allowed to work 20 hours a week during the semester under university policy. So I always joke with this undergrad that he should be washing dishes and informing him that I have dirty test tubes that need washing (I would NEVER let him actually wash my dishes, that is my responsibility not his, plus Dr. M pays him not Boss Lady). He also earned this nickname from writing on the board to "leave the dishes for me", when he gets busy his dishes pile up a bit and once in awhile someone will just wash them and it makes him feel guilty. I always tease him when I see a note like that.

S: S is a grad student, she just started working on her master's last semester. She has been working in this lab for awhile, she came in as an undergrad. Since Dr. M didn't have any grad students she and another undergrad who just graduated and got a job (not crazy enough for grad school, we miss her terribly), they were basically acting as grad students for the lab (ordering supplies, organizing cleanup, etc) so the transition in "status" was pretty easy for her.

S2: New lab worker who I previously worked with, she is trying to decide what she wants to do and is leaning towards getting an arts degree. If she does then I can tell Baby Sibling that I know an art major that took and passed calculus so I wish her the best of luck!

Prof Wannabe: Prof Wannabe is a grad student, last summer he was a summer intern. He had something else lined up out west supposedly but for whatever reason decided instead to stay here and go to grad school even though he made fun of the university and does not like the town. He is the one who seems to think that undergrads should be responsible for all the menial crap, if he can get someone else to do his lab work for him he will (apparently "graduate research assistant" means you don't actually do the research... he does do research though, just when he has help he lets them do as much as possible), he comes off as very arrogant and selfish, intentionally or not. From stuff he has said and done he basically does tasks that are the professor's job and often does not do the work that grad students are normally expected to do (Dr. M is way too nice), and that is why I decided to name him PW. I try to get along with him, I feel sorry for him because it sucks to be hated like he is (I've actually been there) but he brings it on himself and doesn't listen when I try to tell him how/why he pisses everyone off. He will be the subject of several posts in the future I'm sure as he is a major source of lab drama.

Those are the "permanent" people in the lab, other people may pop up from time to time. I'm still trying to decide what to call the lab drama stories, I want a name that basically turns a soap opera's name into something nerdy. Baby Sibling and I haven't come up with one that stands out at this point. If any of you can think of a name for such a series give me a comment, if I pick your name you'll be all famous and everyone will love you ;). Baby Sibling would love you for sure because then I'd stop bugging her to think of names!

*Disclaimer: lab drama stories are told from my perspective and are biased to how I see things. Sometimes I may tell a story that my information is second hand but I find it amusing, in those cases there is double the bias.


NukeDad said...

The Ebola and The Beautiful

All My Cultures

One Petri To Sieve

Ryan's (micro)Scope

That's the best I can do on the fly.

The Microblogologist said...

Hehehe, you rock!

Richard said...

My dear niece,

I'm reading in order of publication, so you may already have a name. If not,

As The Microbe Turns.

The Dung and the Listless.

Love & blessings