On the way to Paperless-land / Episode 1 – Evernote

In parallel to my research project, I have more “geeky” project going on: achieving paperless-ness. I am not the most organized person, and accumulate stacks of papers with doodles, administrative stuff, research papers, train tickets, reimbursement files, etc … And I will not mention how tidy this still looks compared to other desks I saw in research labs in the past.

I took a resolution during my first year of PhD that until the end I would completely switch to a digital and organized system. To do so, I use some iPhone/iPad apps which are absolutely essential for that. The most important one is Evernote.

I take all my meeting/seminars/conference notes in it. It is synchronized with my other devices, computers (home and lab), and saved on the cloud. I am able to effortlessly organize it, and do in-text search if I look for a particular thing. If I’m having a “I-don’t-feel-like-taking-notes” day, I record the talk.

This App saved me so many random unreadable notes and doodles spread in different lab books already. And I can actually find back things that I know to have written down somewhere and at some point.

It’s free also, so try it out, people 🙂

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PI Quotes 7 – “Drosophila, these are the kind of things you fall in love with …”

This is good stuff. Since a few weeks, I am the supervisor of an undergrad. When she came to the lab; my supervisor introduced her to our work, and told her: “Drosophila …, these are the kind of things you fall in love with …” with this semi-serious/semi amused look.

I found it terribly funny and terribly true. I know quite a few people who are in love with their flies. I am in love with them also. And I have pictures of them hanging over my bench.

The most recent one if have it here :

It can be found here, and is designed by the fly jedi and brilliant scientist Pavel (Tomancak), and made by his colleague Radek . (Both can be congratulated for the beautiful picture on twitter, btw)

In the book “Fly pushing: the theory and practice of Drosophila”, by Ralph Greenspan, it is written that you cannot decently work with an animal model without connecting with it in some way. You have to love your model. And sure enough, after a few weeks, I can see that my student is totally falling for them also 🙂 They must have some kind of super-power.

Missing the melting pot

This week has been though on me for several reasons. Among these, the fact that it was pointed out to me that I was the only one in the lab who did not speak the local language (a.k.a. dutch). A few weeks ago, our lab was reorganized, and people (who happened to be my international colleagues) moved out. And now I’m alone. And I’am also the only girl left. (Although, a few girl undergrads are joining now). It’s tough.

It does not mean I don’t like my colleagues. The opposite actually. They’re all nice guys, and we do all get along very well. But, they are all dutch, share the same culture, interests, and it’s difficult not to feel like a stranger sometimes; even after nearly 2 years in the lab.

I miss being in a lab with over 20 different nationalities and even more spoken languages. Sharing and discovering other cultures, dishes, discussions. The Melting Pot a lab should be.

When moving, my thoughts were the following. Netherlands = Europe; all labs speak english; and it’s like 5 hours away from France. How different can it get ?

The answer is more then what you would think. The french latin culture is quite different from the dutch germanic one (This ranges from gastronomy to way of life). Although all professional meetings are done in English, coffee breaks are sometimes in dutch, and leave me sitting there and trying to grasp a few words (if I’m the only “international” sitting there, I understand it’s less obvious to speak english for some people, but it’s still rude).

It’s something to be aware of if you want to move to a foreign country with a language you don’t master. Honestly, it is a very good experience, but I think I might be more careful with this in the future.

I’d be interested to have your thoughts on that subject …

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The fine line between colleagues and friends

Are some of your colleagues your friends as well ? Or not ? I always find it very delicat to decide and draw a line there (not that it’s anything conscious).
Scientists generally spend a lot of times together because they work long hours, share regular drinks on friday evening, have days-out or extra-lab activities. So it’s inevitable that you get closer than “regular” colleagues. But that does not mean there is friendship there, right ? (Being Facebook friends does not count)
At the end, only time will tell you for sure. From experience, I can tell that I kept in touch with only a handful of people I met in labs. These are the ones you were and still are friends with.

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PS: And this is what you call a lab party. Beer and wine on ice, in a box that normally contains dirty glassware. Isn’t that the nerdiest ?

We’re all imposters.

It is highly unlikely no to say impossible that you’ve never experienced it:
The felling of not belonging where you are. The feeling that you don’t deserve it. That you’re not good enough. That all the others are better than you. I have no shame to say that I felt like this many times, at various stages of my studies. And it’s called the imposter syndrome.
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Imagine my relief a few weeks ago when I heard two very established and sucessful PI’s (For the drosophilists, it was Casey Bergam and Scott Hawley) saying : “The imposter syndrome: we all have it, it’s not going away, and it’s not even getting better!” 
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I was amazed that two ‘top shots” PI’s would confess that so bluntly, but I am thankful that they did. After some googling I found that Richard Felder, the very renowned chemist had the same problem, and wrote some guidelines on how to convince yourself or your student that we are not imposters. It is very helpful.
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And let’s face it. Our job is to discover something NEW and something nobody NEVER worked on before about the immense black hole that is mother nature. That’s already challenging enough, right ? How can that not be intimidating, and distressing. On the top the of that, we live in the 21th century,   with deadlines, grant pressures, peer pressures, risk of beeing scooped, unrelevant, and I’ll stop there.
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In my opinion, it’s perfectly normal to feel like an imposter sometimes, and everyone should have the guts to just say it.

Famous Scientists Quotes -2- : “They will fool you every time”

I’m still a little bit in my Drosophila’s-are-the-best phase, and I remembered today one of the many witty quotes from Alfred Sturtevant, one of the father’s of Drosophila genetics, who worked with Thomas Hunt Morgan himself. (More on his life and achievements here) 

This man had a lot of wisdom to say: “They [the flies] will fool you every time”.      Every person who ever worked in a fly lab knows it’s true. I think about it every time my experiments turn out weird. And it makes me smile again.

Indeed, if there is a way for them to escape the tube or the room, they will find it. If your crossing scheme is dodgy or risky, they will fail you. Even if it’s not, they will still try. Sometimes, it just feels like they resent us for keeping them in the lab, and messing with their genes 🙂 I swear that I once felt one bite me (still not kidding).

So, new drosophilists in the making, now you cannot say you didn’t know 🙂