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Don't Do That

Benferguson72x724Ben Ferguson -- Writing my previous post reminded me of two other “don’t” stories to share.

A good friend of mine -- let’s call him Jon -- was scrubbed in on an operation during his third-year surgery clerkship, working alongside a surgeon who is well-liked here but has a reputation of being rather intimidating among the medical students. Being a green medical student (yet certainly feeling lucky to have some hands-on responsibility in the first place), Jon was relegated to working the laparoscopic camera during something like a lung resection. The surgeon asked him to reposition the camera to get a better view of the surgical field, but he replied that he didn’t think he could maneuver at such an angle because if he were to try, he was afraid he might break one of the patient’s ribs.

The surgeon stopped what he was doing, put down his cautery probe, looked directly at Jon across the table, and cleared his throat.

“Don’t do that,” he said flatly, as if he were lecturing on the innervation of the puborectalis. Then he picked up his instruments and went back to what he was doing.

Jon said only a little urine came out.

A few weeks ago, I was having a chat about some trouble I was having with one of my projects and how I was going about troubleshooting it. (I’ve been troubleshooting for about a month now; accordingly, we’ve been having a lot of these conversations.)

I started cycling through my options: “Well, I could run my samples on a gel again, or I could resequence the construct, or I could redo the mutagenesis entirely, or I could digest with Ava1, or I could re-digest with Dpn1, or I could try a different polymerase, or I could increase the transformation volumes. OR, I could just shoot an email to [our collaborator] and ask him to send some of his -—”

“Don’t do that,” my PI said. “Stick with the other stuff and you’ll get it to work eventually.”

The thing is, I will get it to work eventually, but I wish I didn’t have to. I wish someone could just send me the final product so I can use it immediately in my experiments, but it doesn’t work like that most of the time. Or any time, really, unless you’re extremely lucky, have extremely generous collaborators, and/or have a PI with a fat, disposable wallet. These thwarting words weren’t very encouraging to hear, but it’s the right thing to hear in the end and it has taught me that the best solution isn’t always the easiest one or the one most readily bought or mooched. For rapidity of data, that may be true, but it doesn’t hold up when taking the broader goals of graduate work into consideration, not the least of which are learning how to master basic techniques and learning how to deal with them when they inexplicably fail.

August 18, 2008 in Ben Ferguson | Permalink

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