Monday, February 20, 2012

Culturing culture

I am supervising/mentoring/collaborating with two post-doctoral researchers (a.k.a. postdocs), and greatly enjoying the process. They are both smart, hardworking and enthusiastic, and, unlike me, talented experimentalists. I am good at proposing experimental designs, and at inventing or improving upon experimental apparatus, but I managed to get through all my years of training as a biologist without ever being taught the nitty-gritty of laboratory work. I like to make things up as I go along, and work on twelve projects at a time, paying sporadic attention to each, and you can't really do experiments that way. But these two post-docs actually know what they are doing in the lab. It is impressive to see how thoroughly they train the students, how carefully they document their doings, and how well they know their organisms. As a grad student I started working with rotifers with almost no prior knowledge of rotifers, and without any advisor who knew rotifers. I read the literature, but there is a deep cultural knowledge about how to care for aquatic lab animals, with lore and practice around each group, and I had none of that. These two know, and it is wonderful to watch and learn.

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