F is for fake. And fail.
There is a post-doc column in the prestigious journal Nature. It’s meant to give a short opinion of the practical side of being a student in science. You know what it gives me? The gaggies. To quantify the extent to which I dislike these cheesy blurbs of group think, I decided to deconstruct one. This jambalaya wouldn’t earn passing marks in my middle school English class, but it’s apparently just fake enough to pass muster in a leading scientific journal.
Lab trips foster collegiality
Every summer the members of our lab spend a weekend at a state park, and our most recent annual outing was to Niagara Falls, where we camped, hiked and enjoyed the scenery. I was captivated by the thunderous roar and sprays of mist emanating from the falls.
Really? Captivated? The honeydew smell of the sweet mist was all my soul needed to quench the eternal void of lost love in my aching heart. Only 7th grade honor students–the kind who try too hard in their writing–string together such overspent prose. Thunderous roar. Emanating mist. My turn! How about “churning stomach juices.”
I always look forward to the lab outing because it is guaranteed to be fun — as it was this summer.
No. Just no. It’s not guaranteed to be fun. Why would you even say this? How about everyone in your party drinks water from a Giardia-infested stream? 3 days of rain and near hypothermia? Endless re-tellings of that Bunsen burner story? How about polling scientists and seeing just how many agree that a weekend in the Adirondacks with coworkers is “guaranteed to be fun”?
But these outings are more than just fun excursions. They also build collegiality among our lab members. This is important because cooperation and effective communication can help the lab to run more smoothly and more efficiently.
Cooperation is important? Woah, slow down Socrates. For those that missed it the first time around, “cooperation and effective communication can help the lab to run more smoothly and more efficiently.” My English teacher would have X’d out that entire section with red ink and included an insulting work like “trite” or “trivial” or “no shit, see me after class.”
During summer outings, lab members work together to set up tents, build a campfire and cook meals. We exchange confidences during long hikes. The value in building these interactions is reflected in the operations of the lab, as co-workers must similarly depend on each other for reagents, interpreting results and troubleshooting.
♫ You’re wearing that ugly old baggy t-shirt from that team building exercise you did for your old work. And it’s never looked better on you. Oh, team building exercise ’99. ♫
In a different lab, I once watched two graduate students troubleshooting related molecular-biology protocols. One eventually discovered that a labile buffer had gone bad. However, he selfishly opted to keep the knowledge to himself, leaving his fellow student to flounder for weeks.
Verily, this would never had happened if the two had soul gazed over smores and mosquito bites. The kind of person that knowingly inflicts weeks of lost time on a colleague is what we call a jerk. A jerk is not made whole by a day at Six Flags or a Paintball outing with the lab. I am an Eagle Scout. I spent over 100 weekends in the the woods with jerks of various flavors. I would know.
A lack of collegiality can have a serious impact on lab members. Consequently, in the near future when I look for another job, collegiality is a factor I will consider. I have witnessed at first hand its value in the workplace.
This is when I take a pause and ask, “what did I just learn”? Teamwork is good. Getting along is good. It is important to get along. In the future, I will look for a job where we can all get along. These are all profound points, but perhaps not the author’s main message. If I may summarize:
The road to guaranteed fun is paved with forced time in enclosed spaces doing pre-planned activities (egg on a spoon race, preferably) which nobody really wants to do, but which everybody does, owing to the lack of a better activity which all parties find, at minimum, passably tolerable.
Nature wouldn’t publish my version of the story, oddly enough.