A story with a moral (sort of).
Once upon a time, there was a budding scientist, a Master’s student in a small but efficient stem cell lab. He just graduated with honors, majoring in Biology. Four years of hard work, sweat, and tears….all for that little piece of paper that told his parents that their money was well spent. His reward: One year at his alma mater, tuition-free, to tweak a few things and walk with an advanced degree in stem cell biology. He was on top of the word and no one was going to make him feel anything but proud and delighted in his recent accomplishment. That is, until this grad student and future blogger crapped on his ego.
I was his mentor, his labmate, and occasional Friday night Happy Hour buddy, until that fateful day I walked into the cell culture room and saw him committing sins of epic proportions. Below is our interaction (paraphrased of course). In my defense, he had it coming.
Me: Hey dude. Whatcha doin?
Him: Passing my cells.
Me: So are you trying to kill yourself or just make me look like an idiot?
Me: I’m sorry. I’ll say it slower. Are you trying to kill yourself or just make me look like an idiot?
Him: Umm. Not sure. Why?
Me: Well, first off, I see a bottle of soda behind you on the counter in front of the incubator. WTF are you doing, bringing ANYTHING like that in this cell culture room? If Dr. X sees this, not only will she have me drawn and quartered, but you’ll be out on your arse before you can even find out what you did wrong. And why the heck do you have your filthy backpack on the floor near the hood? What’s in there that’s so important that you can’t leave it in the lab but rather feel you have to risk all of our cell cultures? I have cells in there that I’ve been differentiating for over a month. If they get contaminated, I’m throwing your skinny butt under the bus. Capiche?
Him: Dude. WTF? Why are you being such a jerk?
Me: Because you are being an idiot of unprecedented proportions right now. Nothing I see about you right now tells me I should continue mentoring you: You have food in the culture room, the door was freaking OPEN to the hallway, you have your watch on under the hood dangling on your wrist and shaking microscopic crap all over the place, your stupid earphone cord is hitting your “sterile” surfaces everywhere. Your plates are UNCOVERED, AAAAAND, God help me, your freaking backpack…….Just stop everything right now. Shut this down, and get all your crap out of here immediately. Then come see me at my desk and pray Dr. X isn’t around when you do.
Him: Fine. Whatever, man.
Me: Yeah. Whatever. Get it done.
A few minutes later, as I was waiting for the poor soul to come get the rest of his reprimand, Dr. X walks by and asks ‘Why is my Master’s student banging stuff around the cell culture room like a pissed off gorilla?” “Ahhh,” I said. “That’s my fault but I have it under control.” She looked at me for a few seconds and asked “Do I want to be around here right now?”
So she decided it would be a good time to take an early lunch and I was glad she did. ….Back to our script:
Him: OK, man. Tell me right now why you’re being such a douche.
Me: You already know. This is what else you need to know. You are a nightmare in the cell culture room. You risk ruining the hard work we all put in. You’re going to stop bringing food, soda, your backpack, your iPod, and your watch into the cell culture room. You’re going to sit behind me and watch me do my cell culture work. You’re going to pay attention to my every move, and you’re only going to talk if you have a question about my technique. Got it? You’re a smart kid, don’t let today get in the way of your Master’s.
Him: Seriously. You’re overreacting. I was being so bad that you…..
Me: Stop. Right there. I’m not interested in your point of view. It’s fine. It’s over. Just don’t let anyone know what I saw and I’ll keep it to myself. I’m going in there in about 20 minutes. You’re coming with me. Capiche?
Him: Yeah. But you never said anything to me that made me think I was killing myself in there. Why’d you say that?
Me: Oh yeah. How do your arms feel right now?
Him: Kinda red and itchy. Why?
Me: Because you’re supposed to turn the UV light OFF when you work under the hood. You’re giving yourself skin cancer, Einstein. And while you’re at it, please stop leaning your head on the glass when you’re working under the hood. If I have to stare at your forehead grease when I’m doing my cell work, you’re outta here. It’s freaking gross and you need to consider showering daily. With Soap. Soap you should use on your forehead.
So, not my best example of dealing with issues with respect and rationality. But, in one harsh interaction, we both fixed the problems, and our budding scientist got his Master’s degree (deservedly). The moral of the story? Everything is a potential source of contamination, and even the slightest breach in technique can wipe out months of hard work. I think the use of antibiotics and antimycotics are a good thing (Guess who sells those, at prices that’ll make you smile!) but they are not a force-field for sterility. They are, at best, a safety net if something gets in your cultures that can wreak havoc.
Oh yeah. His cells all died …UV radiation does bad things to cells, don’tcha know? He’s since moved on and is a successful scientist now and loves to tell the story of how he handled the biggest jerk he ever worked for. Well, here’s my side, unnamed former mentee. Hope your students read my blog! (insert big smiley face)…
Stay tuned for next week, where we tackle the issue of designer genes!