Science is a girl thing. Really ?

I fell off my chair when I saw that little video buzzing of twitter & co this week-end.

It’s a promotional clip made by some people sitting in chairs and thinking about how to promote women in science at the European Commission. Yep … I’m not even joking.

Seriously, they could hardly have done a worse job then that. Although the goal (promote women in science) is perfectly legitimate, I don’t think that this is the way to do it. This is the way you sell make-up and high-heels.

If the clip is supposed to show woman in science, why is it the guy who sits  in front of the microscope and wears a white coat ? (and why does he looks at them like a creep ?) Why do they walk  and look like they were the actresses of Sex and the City ? And why is everything pink and so artificial ? 

This is just the worse way to promote equality between men and women in science, that is far from been achieved. I wondered if these people ever set foot in a lab to see how it really looks, and how it’s generally far from glamourous.

Today I attended a PhD defense where the entire jury of 8 people was constituted by 40 to 70 year old men. Girls, we still have a long way to go … (Note to myself: I should write a post to discuss this in more details some time.)

PI Quotes – 2 “You should always choose your lab like you choose your girlfriend.”

I got a comment from Lythfire on my previous post, and honestly, it’s so good that it totally deserves it’s own post. So here we go :

 I clearly remember my very first PI, who was italian, when I had the interview for a training, telling me :

“You should always choose your lab like you choose your girlfriend. Everyone has his own criteria, needs, and desires.”

I love this quote, I actually also agree with the idea.
Choosing a lab is not always 100% rational, and the end decision sometimes relies on feelings and impressions in addition to true criteria like publications, funding, infra-structures… The fact that it’s really difficult to “break up” with a lab and “move on” to another one when you truly like it is one more piece of evidence.  Finally, in many cases, separation can end in a bitter divorce
Many thanks for sharing this, dear Lyhfire, 😉

PI Quotes – 1 “Always think you’re stupid” *edit*

This is the beginning of a “series” I would like to be about “PI Quotes“. I have been very lucky up to now to work with funny and inspired PI’s in that area :p

So here comes the 1st PI quote I think and smile about very often, mainly because it’s so true :

Let me give you the context : I am somebody quite sloppy when it comes to labeling tubes (but I am improving). During my master’s, I would often try to memorize the content of my tubes in relation to their position in the tube rack, rather then writing neatly on each one. Inevitably, I would make mistakes here and there, and my PI had a talent to notice these things 🙂

So once, he told me :

Always think that you’re the stupid one. You’re stupid, I’m stupid, we’re all stupid. We all think we can remember what’s in tubes without labeling, but we actually never can. And starting to doubt about this screws up the experiment you worked so hard on. So label your tubes, please.” 

I’ll always remember that moment. And I think about it almost every time I label eppi’s now. It’s such a good example of very intelligent people being humble and not taking themselves to seriously when doing science.

Dear readers, don’t hesitate to share your own “PI quotes” in the comments, I’ll integrate them to the post.

I very happy readers contributed here : 

Quietandsmall said : my current PI’s fave thing to say is, “so the question is…..”

On the tube labeling, Lythfire commented : My previous PI in germany was not that philosophical, he used to tell me these things in another way : “If I see some eppendorfs without label in the fridge, I’ll throw them away. Make sure it’s not gonna happen”. Indeed, this is quite radical !

*A PhD is just a job*

I could not disagree more with that statement.

Curiously, I hear it regularly here, in the Netherlands. In France, it would not come to any PhD student’s mind. Let me explain. The dutch system considers the PhD students like “researchers in training”, and treats them with a decent salary, and employment conditions anybody could ever dream of. In France, you’re paid more ore less minimum wage, you’re neither an employee, nor a student, and don’t get advantages from the one or the other.

Should I mention that dutch PhD’s are generally healthy and happy until the end of their thesis, sometimes built families, have kids, hobbies, and lives outside the lab while during their thesis. Situation in France (but I can talk only about my experience) is faaaaar away from that.

But … (there is always a but …) PhD student in the Netherlands are often older then their french counterpart. They have never-ending deadlines, and a very very relaxed study plan. Therefore, some master’s students from the lab are older then me, a second year PhD.

Also, the fact that they are considered like employees makes them  think that they are just employes. 9 to 5 job. A pay at the end of the month. Results to deliver. Working late in the evening or during week-end is more exceptional then normal. Métro-boulot-dodo like we would say in French. (Literally translated as subway-work-sleep)

And this is exactly what a PhD is not (at least in my opinion). I would never count my hours of work and stop when reaching what stipulates my contract. I work at night, and sometimes on week-end. And I don’t spend a day without thinking about my research.  Even after a 3 week vacation break, I have to admit. And sometimes I dream about perfect experiments and ideas that I forget in the morning. And I like it that way. I feel “tied” to my project forever. I love that feeling. Being “tied”, and paradoxically also free. Being paid to think, to be creative, to try things, to speculate indefinitely, to organize things just like you want. Of course sometimes you get angry, or doubtful, and hope you would not care about it that much and forget things for a few days. But this feeling never last very long, honestly.

I just hope it’s not some kind long-lasting “honeymoon phase” that will break like a bubble. I started my PhD 1 year and a half ago, (although it feels like yesterday), and hope this state will remain permanent. I cannot imagine myself doing anything else right now. And these are all the reasons why I would never call my PhD a job. A regular job does not obsess you that much, does not bring that much excitement, eagerness, motivation, and satisfaction. Waking up every day for something that you love and care so much about is such a gift. I hope I never loose this feeling. Otherwise, I’ll aways have this blog post to remember what it felt like. Some days, life feels just so sweet.

Movie night in the lab !

This evening we organized a little movie night in the lab. This consists of ordering take-out food and watching a movie in the meeting’s room big screen 🙂

Anyway, we watched the PhD movie , made by the very famous PhD comics guys. It is a little short, but it is really good. We laughed a lot, and immediately started to quote stuff in the lab afterwards !

I would really recommend it to anybody working in a research lab 🙂 Here is a little preview :

Enjoy …

All you ever wanted to know about viruses

I am a big fan of the podcast series called “This week in Virology“, hosted by Vincent Racianello (also known as “the guy who made the infectious cDNA of Polio”, said with all due respect and admiration); Dickson Despommier (An excellent parasitologist, now into vertical farming), and Alan Dove (a science writer and blogger at http://alandove.com/).

Every other day, they take 1-2 hours, to talk about viruses, the latest good papers in the field, and the weather.

 I love listening to these guys while I inject fruit flies for hours in our little fly room. Sometimes, it’s feels like traveling in space to their studio, and just have a casual lit’ discussion with them. The first podcast I listened to was the one with Raul Andino, casualy talking about RNA interference and immunity in Drosophila (Thanks to my very cool boss for the recommendation, if he ever reads me :)) .

Thanks to them, I already learned a lot about viruses, and most importantly, got contaminated with their “infectious enthusiasm” about good fundamental science and virology in general.

I can only recommend it to anybody who is remotely interested in science and viruses, it’s very accessible to any kind of public.

No more waiting, here is the link to their website :

http://www.twiv.tv/