Hello-hello-hello and Best Wishes to my readers for a joyful and fulfilling 2018 ahead! 2017—by Toutatis!—presented its own unique set of challenges (a direct casualty of which was the frequency of my blog posts), but I hope to do better this year. To that end, I’d like to share my thoughts about something BEAUTIFUL I read yesterday: a feature by Nora Krug in the Washington Post.
The past one year has been rough – what with the deaths of a few close family members. Just as I am slowly settling into 2015, in quick succession come three harsh blows from life: first, that poignant announcement from Prof. Oliver Sachs, next, the untimely death of a beloved mentor and friend, Prof. Paula Pitha-Rowe, and now, the sudden passing of my ever-the-most-favorite author, Sir Terry Pratchett. One by one, my favorite people are leaving me, and I don’t like it one bit.
Two things I encountered today, good and bad in equal measures. First, the good.
In the recent past, I received an invitation for reviewing a submitted manuscript from a noted journal (which shall remain nameless). The topic of the study verged on pharmacognosy and ethnobotany, both areas of knowledge that I – as an erstwhile drug discovery researcher in another lifetime – find fascinating. I accepted the invitation to review because the study piqued my interest.
Hello there! Did y’all miss me?
Belatedly, to whomever is reading this post, I wish a happy and healthy 2013, hopefully filled with peace, reason and sanity. The inestimable Khalil, our kind and ever-watchful community manager, asked after my health today, and it made me realize that I have been sorta kinda neglecting Scilogs for a while. Not that there is a great deal of interest evinced in whatever I write anyway, but blogging about science-related stuff at Scilogs is one of my more pleasurable activities. But of late, I have been languishing in a modicum of funk, and haven’t been able to find any lasting interest in professional topics. There is a reason for that, though. Allow me to explain.
My science-related interests are blogged at Scilogs (formerly, the Nature Network blogs), but I have another blog, a personal one, in which from time to time I write about things that flit through my mind – about life, society, people and stuff. I have used that blog to express my anguish about certain things happening in real life around me. Very few people actually read that blog, too (which is perhaps a testament to a certain lack of writing abilities in me), but it has given me a channel to vent.
And since the beginning of December last year, there has been a lot to vent about, and consequently, I have been writing in that blog of mine – in preference to Scilogs. Those who have followed events of recent past in India would perhaps know what I am talking about. I have been outside India for 11 years now, living and working in the US. But that has not diminished the emotional ties that I have with the country of my birth, my growing up and my education, the country where I still have family and countless friends. That is the reason why incidents happening in India still affect me, deeply.
Don’t get me wrong. I am not some sensitive flower wilting at the mere mention of unpleasantness. I have been known to be severely critical of, but otherwise unfazed by, the religion-inspired idiocy that goes around in much of India’s public spheres. I have been surprised, shocked, devastated at news of terrorist attacks or natural disasters, fearing for the safety of my family, friends and their families and friends. I have been deeply concerned about the state of science and education, and the current economic crisis in that country. But very few events of any magnitude have affected me at a visceral level, as did the spate of news from India about continuous – and unrelenting – occurrence of rape and other forms of sexual violence against women in contemporary India.
The Indian society is mired in patriarchal traditions and customs, which are ably bolstered by religions of various hues. One may be hard put to find any particular custom which doesn’t have the sanction of a corresponding religious tradition. All the spheres of societal life are intricately associated with religion. Which is perhaps why, on any matter of local, social or national importance, religious leaders, as well as self-appointed guardians of public morality – who often fall back upon quasi-religious justifications for their actions – feel impelled to comment publicly, and their utterances are faithfully lapped up by their followers.
The problem is that in this patriarchal society and its customs/traditions, the scourge of misogyny is deeply entrenched. And the putrid stench of that often permeates all aspects of society, including legislature and judiciary. Therefore, rape laws are antiquated and ineffective; victims are treated inhumanly and unfairly; even in case of apprehension of the culprit(s), the legal processes drag on, sometimes for decades, often resulting in utter humiliation of the victims – and justice is often denied in the end on some ground or the other. The worst of all – and the religious and social leaders are often complicit in this – the victims are almost always blamed for their own terrible calamities. The sheer ludicrousness of some of the victim-blaming statements that these uncouth people have spewed forth is mindboggling, and would have been funny, if they were not associated with a heinous crime. I have been writing and commenting upon these aspects in the other blog.
One silver lining of a very dark cloud has been the fact that aided by the internet, particularly social media tools, the citizens of India, especially the youth, have decided not to remain silent this time. Outrage has poured in, demonstrations have been organized, demands have been made of the government for swift and decisive action. I don’t know if anything will eventually come out of it, though. Nothing ever does, really. These incidents mostly would remain within public memory, flicker after a while, and go out, returning to status quo – except for those who have faced them personally.
Sexual violence against women has become this country’s collective shame. Delhi, the city close to my heart – where I studied for my Master’s degree and worked towards my PhD – has been dubbed the ‘rape capital’ of India. Unsavory as it is, the epithet seems le mot juste, since even while all this outrage is going on, rape incidents – including cruel and inhuman gang rapes – continue unabated in Delhi, in other North Indian states, and also elsewhere in the country. Even children, little girls, were not spared.
All these things have been bearing upon my mind rather heavily. I am a scientist, and science, to me, is a way of life; but these incidents and their repercussions have made me realize that I am a human being, too – mostly filled with impotent rage and frustration. I hope you’d bear with me for a little while longer. I hope to return to a more equanimitous frame of mind, and re-initiate my science-blogging.
See you soon, and take care. Ciao!
I got a fascinating list – titled as above – that I could just nod my head to – from my dear wife, who collected it from an emailed newsletter she received from a professional body (N.B. PDF here, open at Page 22, if you are reaaaaally interested. Else, it’s all below).
As a matter of habit, I started looking for the source; I searched Google with the title. And lo! And Behold! What jumps up but Linda Lin’s brilliant post with the same title and photos and all, posted early last year! I felt so sad for not having discovered that gem sooner. To assuage my grief, I promptly (of course!) joined the Facebook group that she mentioned in her post.
I also fondly recollected how much fun I had, dropping various microliter volumes of water onto the remaining liquid nitrogen in an ice bucket, to watch the water freeze instantly into globules of ice. Another perennial favorite has been to pour some dry ice in the sink and turn the water on, to make white, cold, billowy smoke. Sigh!
But I understand. We are busy scientists, and can’t go running to find every little thing, can we? So here is a definitive list, compiled from above-mentioned, multiple sources, for your kind perusal and enjoyment.
“You know you’ve worked in the lab too long when…”
- You say “mills” and “migs”. ✔
- You say “orders of magnitude” in regular sentences. ✔
- You say “conjugation” instead of “sex”, and “pili” sounds dirty.
- You can no longer spell normal words but have no trouble with spelling things like immunohistochemistry or deoxyribonucleic acid.
- You refer to your children as the F1.
- You think the following is a quality insult: “I’ve seen cells more competent than you!”
- You use acronyms for everything and never stop to elaborate. ✔
- You use the word “aliquot” in regular sentences, especially with reference to tea, coffee or curry. ✔
- You flinch when you hear the word “significant”. ✔
- For you, media is something which increases your culture.
- When you hear tween, you think of the surfactant not the age group. ✔
- You are fed up of people saying alcohol, when they mean ethanol.
- SOB is not an insult; it’s what you grow your bugs in.
- You actually threaten your cells whilst waving a bottle of virkon or some other disinfectant.
- You give the lab equipment motivational pep talks: “Work for me today or I’ll reprogram you with a fire axe” is my favorite. ✔
- You’ve seen how far away you can hit a target with a squirty water bottle or seeing how far away from the bin you can fire pipette tips. ✔
- You still get amusement out of “freezing” things in liquid nitrogen. ✔
- You rejoice when grabbing a handful of eppendorfs/bijous/anything and it turns outs to be the exact number you needed. ✔
- You decide the courses and conference you want to go on by the quality of the food served. ✔
- When you start making patterns in your pipette tip box as you take the tips out. ✔
- You’ve played Battleship using tip boxes.
- You’ve used, “I’d like to get into your genes” as a pickup line.
- You have made some kind of puppet out of a nitrile glove and kept it as a pet. ✔
- The scent of latex reminds you of work, not play.
- Safety equipment is optional unless it makes you look cool. ✔
- A timer clipped to the hip is not only practical, but dead sexy.
- People wearing shorts under a lab coat disturb you slightly as they look as though they might be naked underneath. ✔
- You can tell what cheap and expensive white coats look like.
- You hate having to change your lab coat to a new one because ‘it just won’t fit right’ and because the wrist bits are way too tight.
- You’ve never worn a clean lab coat.
- You have an irresistible urge to rip your shirt off superman style because it has press stud fasteners just like your lab coat… Most often occurring as you walk through a door just like exiting the lab… (I prefer to apply the Hulk style to disposable PPE) ✔
- You’ve left the lab wearing a piece of PPE (personal protective equipment) because you forgot you had it on. ✔
- You consider a green laser pointer to be science bling. ✔
- You own Invitrogen t-shirts and actually wear them. ✔
Kitchen and home skillz:
- No matter what the timings in the experiment protocol, there is always time for lunch in the middle.
- When you organize your kitchen cupboard contents the way you would your chemicals… all labeled in alphabetical order.
- Although all cooking is a glorified chemistry experiment you just still can’t seem to get it right.
- You’re also very good at transferring small amounts of liquid between containers. ✔
- You’re very good at diluting things. ✔
- When your fruits go bad and you get fruit flies, you can’t help but check their eye color.
- You open the toothpaste with one hand.
- You want to have parafilm at home too. ✔
- You wonder what absolute alcohol tastes like with orange juice.
- Showing up at 10AM and having a coffee is a productive day. ✔
- You’ve worked out that a trained chimp could probably do 90% of your job. ✔
- You always seem to use the microscope after the person with the impossibly close-set eyes. ✔
- When you say goodnight to your microscope on a Friday night and tearfully hug it goodbye as you won’t see it all weekend.
- You can identify organs on roadkills. ✔
- You can’t wait for lab clean-up because you get to do random pointless “experiments” to figure out what’s in all the dodgy unlabeled bottles.
Accidents & discomfort:
- Accident reports are a badge of honor.
- Warning labels invoke curiosity rather than caution.
- Blinking real fast has saved your eyesight on more than one occasion.
- Burning eyes, nose and throat indicate that you haven’t actually turned on the fumehood/ downdraft bench.
- Liquid nitrogen is only about a 1/3 as dangerous as you thought.
- You bitch about not being able to pipette by mouth any more. ✔
- When you wonder: how much will it hurt if I pour just a smidgen of this phenol/chloroform/ trichloroacetic acid/ any random chemical on myself?
- The fire alarm ceases to bug you. You only evacuate when you see the fire. (Hand on the floor to check for heat is a good indicator.) ✔
C’est la vie:
- No one in your family has any idea what you do. ✔
- Sometime you momentarily vanish from social activities because of a time-point. ✔
- The front page of Science is your light reading.
- You realize that almost anything can be classed as background reading. ✔
- When a non-scientist asks you what you do for a living, you roll your eyes and talk science at them until they’ve lost the will to live.
- When you rejoice when grabbing a handful of eppendorfs/bijous/anything and it turns outs to be the exact number you needed. ✔
- When you’ve got that callus on the side of your thumb from opening PCR tubes (0.5ml and 1.5ml eppendorf tubes for me). ✔
- You are strangely proud of the collection of junk you’ve stolen from vendors at trade shows. ✔
- You can make a short film in Powerpoint. ✔
- You can’t watch CSI without cursing at least one scientific inaccuracy. ✔
- You don’t fear rodents, rodents fear you. ✔
- You have to check the web to find out what the weather is outside. ✔
- You’ve bent down to pick something up off the floor only to scatter the contents of your top pocket under the largest machine in the lab. ✔
Health and Hygiene:
- You wash your hands before and after using the washroom.
- You’ve suffered carpal tunnel from the pipetman. ✔
- You’ve used Kimwipes as Kleenex. ✔
- You’ve wondered why you can’t drink distilled water in the lab- shouldn’t it be clean? ✔
- Your nose invariably itches when you’re doing mucky stuff with your hands so you develop the habit of scratching it on your upper arm. Unfortunately, you sometimes carry this habit over to real life, where it looks like you’re sniffing your armpits. ✔
- You are slightly too fond of the smell of (pick one or many) Xylene/ Agar/ Ethanol/ Undergraduates/ Alcoholic hand-wash.
- You’ve removed your gloves to find a small hole which has left you with either – wrinkly old person hands, a brightly colored finger (histologists especially) or a burning sensation and dermatitis at some point.
Enjoy! I realized that I’ve been guilty of many of these many times (especially ones with a check mark!). Don’t forget to write your favorite or add your own in the comments.
I am a great fan of Cuttlefish. Those who don’t know him, check out his brilliant blog, Digital Cuttlefish; the man has an amazing talent for poetry, and is a rationalist and a frequent and well-respected commenter at PZ Myers’ Pharyngula. Recently, when talking about Christopher Hitchens’ battle with esophageal cancer – an ongoing discussion at Pharyngula – he expressed some beautiful and heart-warming sentiments in a comment. I was immensely moved; they brought tears to my eyes and a glow to my heart. I wished to share that comment with y’all.