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The Micropipette: Confronting Postdoc Anxieties & Slaying dragons

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.


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I’m feeling a little anxious. And I suspect it’s only going to get more hairy. I am trying to get a lot of work done this summer and now that I am preparing to leave for the first engagement of my ‘summer tour schedule‘ I’m feeling a little regretful. Why am I leaving right now? And I’m also wringing my hands wondering what have I gotten myself into? A research project that involved lab work, ecology, travel, plus figuring out basic behavioral and physiological components of a relatively unknown species….as a postdoc?  I was smoking crack?

What’s got me on edge? This.

I need to do ELISAs right now for a project that one of my research assistants is doing. She’s participating in a summer research program – funded by an external grant. She needs data for her capstone presentation (which is in a couple of weeks). Plus, we really do want to know what’s going on with these animals – physiologically. She has done an awesome job this summer – studying the vaginal cytology of the females in the colony. We have an idea of what’s happening, but the picture still isn’t clear.  But we have numbers!  Hormone assays would really help bring the picture in focus. Are the changes in vaginal cytology corresponding to hormonal changes Estradiol, Progesterone, Follicle Stimulating Hormone, and Lutenizing Hormone?  Together, these old school lab procedures give us an idea if, how, when, and under what conditions female African Pouched Rats cycle.

I’m feeling completely out of my league in the wet lab. my research style is thorough. I would prefer a training session where someone with much experiences takes me by the hand and runs through the entire process. Tell me the do’s and don’ts. Lists, instructions. I love these things, especially for techniques that I struggled with in the past. I am not very good when it comes to fine instrument hand coordination. In labs I always had the worse micropipetting accuracy and precision exercises, I was horrible at surgeries – I could cut like a surgeon but suturing – eh.

But I take responsibility for this research project and the buck stops with me. That means if we need ELISAs, then I am doing ELISAs. But I am feeling so over-my-head. A good friend told me to take it easy on myself. I’m obsessing – “Black girl perfection problem.” He’s right. I worry about doing things right because I feel (and have experienced) that I am judged heavily if I do poorly, even if it’s something that plaques everyone.  It doesn’t matter; I can’t afford for folks to think I messed up, slacking off, not appearing competent, capable and absolutely ready for whatever comes my way.

So here I am – putting my OCD to action. I’m reading manuals, Re-reading manuals. Downloading undergrad college labs on ELISAs. Reading every helpful hints lists and watching YouTube tutorials. I’m even getting Twitter Tutorials.

I need to know the very, very basics, like am I loading the correct tips on the correct micropippette, correctly. Shout out to my Science Friends who chimed in and set me straight. I so appreciate your patience and guidance.

DNLee About the Author: DNLee is a biologist and she studies animal behavior, mammalogy, and ecology . She uses social media, informal experiential science experiences, and draws from hip hop culture to share science with general audiences, particularly under-served groups. Follow on Twitter @DNLee5.

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.





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  1. 1. Megzee 4:04 pm 07/18/2013

    I feel for you – I now use micropipettors every day in my job, but it took me a week or so to get comfortable using them. Good luck with your assays – you’ll be a pro in no time!

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