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Thursday, July 27, 2006

Lab makeover

As a high-school student I had a vision of graduate school, probably fuelled by watching too many French art-house films. I imagined erudite academics sitting in coffee shops drinking espresso. Now, at the end of my graduate career, I’m finally living my dream. Except that, in reality, multiple cups of coffee make my hands shake and the questions I’m working on are so abstruse that most of my conversations are with myself.

Before my coffee-shop phase, I was in what I call my worker-bee period — spending most of my time collecting data in the lab. This reflects the intrinsic contradiction of becoming a successful lab scientist. On the one hand you need to doggedly repeat experiments with robotic precision, and on the other you need to think creatively and freely about your science.

Returning to the lab after another spell at the coffee shop, I had an idea for speeding up the development of future graduate students: combine the two phases of graduate school. To do so, I suggest changing the ambience of our sterile labs. Add some light jazz, a few paintings by local artists, and berets. This, is my dream demonstrates, will inspire graduate students to greater intellectual heights even while they’re methodically collecting data. If only our safety office would let me install an espresso machine next to my lab bench…




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