Tuesday, 9 June 2009
I have a job
I've been writing this blog for nearly two years, and I've finally had to create a new tag: Work. I suppose it had to happen eventually.
The first day went off like most first days - exhausting and confusing. There was a lot of admin, there was the difficulty of navigating to find the loo through corridors that all look identical, there was information, more information and so much information that my head started to gape open at the seams. I've been given some relevant academic papers to read describing the reactions I'll be looking at, which are all about the enzyme that helps to add the third fatty acid to diacylglycerol to make triacylglycerol molecules in the liver, intestine, adipose cells and elsewhere.
I'm not entirely sure what I'll be able to write here, because the research being done is being funded by a commercial drug company. If successful, the outcome might be an anti-obesity drug, which is obviously something that has a great deal of income-earning potential, and it's been made very clear that they don't want me blabbing all about it. So I probably won't write anything more about experimental results.
The work environment is peculiar, unlike anywhere I've worked before. The professor in charge has an office in the Medical School, but about ten postgrad and postdoc students share an office attached to the lab in the Biological Science area. I was introduced to just one or two, and mostly they don't talk to one another. Not because of any problem, they just don't talk very much. Except one of them has a fish tank, which is handy, because we can talk about fish. I am in the care of a lovely girl, H from Sierra Leone, who is nearing the end of her second year of her four-year PhD.
Today was the second day, and it went much better. I found my way from the front door to the lab, from the lab to the loo, to the tissue culture room and even as far as the library. I set up some cells to grow in a flask! I was under strict supervision, given that my technique was pretty hopeless. Everything is done inside an extractor hood so that it stays sterile, but I made most of the basic mistakes in this one easy operation - touching surfaces with the pipette tip, taking things out of the hood so they weren't sterile, touching sterile things with my gloved hands. At least I didn't knock anything over or draw liquid right up into the automatic pipette gun thing.
Anyway, my cells are now growing in a medium that's as nearly sterile as I could manage, with enough food for a couple of days, when they will have grown enough for us to put the colony into bigger flasks, assuming that they are still alive. By then I hope to have become qualified to handle radioactive isotopes, which we will feed to the cells, and they will make products which we will extract and measure. If my cells are contaminated or dead, I will have another try.
I didn't mention where we got the cells - they were from previous cultures that H had enthusiastically grown before she knew how much she would actually need. They were stored in a flask of liquid nitrogen, which H casually opened up, then lifted out a batch of frozen samples and picked one out without gloves (they were too fiddly to manage with gloves on). Very casual; I was impressed.
Meanwhile, the weather has continued to be terrible. Our few days holiday were at the perfect time - it's hardly stopped raining since we came back, which is great for the three tomato plants and pots of basil and rocket that I planted. I've also got some mint plants and some dill seeds, but I haven't had time to plant/sow them - I'm hoping to get round to it at the weekend, when I'm not AT WORK. I like being a student much better than this work thing - 9 to 5 every day! However did I cope for all those years?