Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Not exactly self-explanatory.

One of the things I hate most about interdisciplinary research is that it typically involves working with lots of people who do different things different ways, in different locations. And lots of them are not exactly great at communication, spoken or written.

One of my biggest pet peeves, I've decided, is when things are not labeled clearly or written down anywhere. This makes finding things and following protocols in someone else's lab anything but self-explanatory.

What really drives me nuts is that most of the time, I'm one of the few - or the only - people who are working in more than one place, with more than a few techniques, and it's that much more important for me to be able to find what I need quickly.

Even worse, I often need things during off-hours (e.g. after 4 pm when the staff go home, not to mention nights, weekends and 'holidays').

If things were labeled and organized, I'd be able to do all of this without wasting MY time having to hunt down the one person who supposedly knows where everything is or how to do that little trick (and they're always on vacation, it seems).

Only to find them and find out that they've run out of the thing I needed, even though there is supposed to be a lab stock.

You know. The thing everyone supposedly uses all the time? Can't do any work without it? Yeah, we ran out of that.

And god forbid we should post their current cell phone number somewhere easy to find, to get the answer, because the lab policy is that "so and so should know but they're gone now."


It seems very un-scientific to me. Why aren't people better about communicating with their future labmates?

At least if you write it down, the scientific method, such as it is, has a chance of working.

I was thinking about this because I was reading how the old alchemists used to take their secrets to the grave. It seems like a waste. And inefficient at best.

And now I'm off to invent a new round thing. I think I'm going to call it a "wheel."

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At 12:53 PM, Blogger Matthew said...

I have to agree with you here. Someone has to take the steps to set something up to begin with--once you have procedures that work, people can/will follow them, but it's the initial "how do I do this?" that's usually the problem. Documentation is hard to write, as I'm discovering in my thesis.

I've toyed with the possibility of having a lab wiki, but we have a lot fewer problems like yours in paleontology (at least in our lab), so I fear it wouldn't get used (aside from the fact that my advisor wouldn't use it).

At 3:26 PM, Anonymous Jake said...

Two words: Job security

The tragedy of the commons also explains it well. While it is in the best interest in the community to have well-written computer code, thoroughly validated papers, and good lab procedures, the system is arranged that these things are not in the best interest of the individual.

At 3:53 PM, Blogger Ms.PhD said...


I've seen a couple of these and they're pretty cool. The ones that have them working well are all younger labs, though.

In our lab there are always waves. Somebody tries to set something up; people use it for a couple months; that person leaves; nothing gets updated. Rinse and repeat.


I see what you mean about job security, but it's kind of silly that people think that way. There's sooo much we don't know, there's plenty of things to do without having to always backtrack so much as we do right now. IMHO.

At 5:37 AM, Anonymous pelf said...

I guess it doesn't only apply to being a post-doc. I have just completed my Master's, and though it wasn't exactly "multi-disciplinary", I've had trouble getting things done. And surprisingly, some of those people who "gave me" those trouble were people who were supposedly trained to do their work!


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