Actual phone conversation with the safety office

I have the unfortunate honor of being assigned the lab job of calling the safety office to schedule chemical waste pickups.  Usually, this is straightforward.  Usually.

Note:  A radiation safety guy was standing nearby waiting for my labmate to come show him the new hot room.  He heard every word.

Me:  Hi, I’d like to schedule a chemical waste pick up.

Them:  Okay, let me get your info.

[Spell name, tell them my department, tell them what building I’m in.]

Them:  What’s the room number?

Me:  Well, we just moved.  The waste is in our old lab in the hood in room 1.  But if the guy needs to talk to someone, he should come to room 2.

Them:  Okay, what do you have?

Me:  Well, I’ve got an empty bottle of chloroform and an empty bottle of TEMED and I’m not sure if we’re supposed to just throw those away or you’re supposed to get them.  I’ve also got an empty bottle of glacial acetic acid which is absolutely covered in something disgusting so I’m sure you’ll have to take that.

Them:  TEMED, that’s T-E-M-E-D.

Me:  Yeah, it stands for tetramethylethyl-something-or-other.

Them:  Okay, is that it?

Me:  No.  Actually, um, we’ve got several bottles that I have no idea what the hell is in them.

Them:  Uhhhhh….

Me:  There’s one bottle, I think it might be TEMED, but the label is so worn, I can’t read it so I can’t say for sure that’s what it is.  There’s about 20mls of liquid in there.

Them:  TEMED waste or just TEMED?

Me:  I have no idea.

Them:  Okaaayyyy…..

Me:  Also, we have a regular lab bottle that has about 200ml of some clearish liquid with a precipitate all over the bottom and I have no idea what that is, either.

Them:  You can’t read the label?

Me:  There is no label.

Them:  No label.

Me:  That’s right.  And then there’s another lab bottle with about 50mls of some blue liquid that might be some sort of copper solution but I don’t know because there’s no label on that one, either.

Them:  And, nobody knows what these things are.

Me:  Yeah.  You know how it is if you’ve lived in a place too long and stuff just accumulates and you don’t even realize it’s there?  Well some of this stuff has been in the hood since time out of mind and anybody who ever knew what it was is probably long gone.

Them:  Oh!  So this is stuff in your new space that somebody just left there and you don’t know what it is.

Me:  Oh no.  This is stuff from our lab alright.  Only nobody knows what it is.  If I had to guess, I’d say the clear stuff is probably something really harmless like filtered media that had something start growing in it but of course I can’t say that for sure.  We just want to get rid of this stuff because it’s clearly waste and of no use to us.

Them:  Um…okay…why don’t I just tell the contractor to come get you and you can walk him through all the stuff you want him to take and see what he says.

Me:  ‘Kay, thanks, bye!

The radiation safety guy just looked amused.  Lord only knows what he’s thinking.  Probably something along the lines of, “I should probably check their radioactive waste logs very carefully.”

Today, at lab meeting, I had a little chat with the lab about how we need to label everything, even if it’s something harmless because if it’s not labeled and the chemical waste guy has to come by and pick it up, then he has to treat it as though it is the most corrosive, most toxic, most environmentally unsafe thing there is when, in fact, it’s probably PBS or something equally benign.

Also, they owe me a drink.

You don’t say?

Taken straight from the “Medication Guide:  Antidepressant Medicines, Depression, and other Serious Mental Illnesses, and Suicidal Thoughts or Actions” which comes with my antidepressant prescription:

Depression and other serious mental illnesses are the most important causes of suicidal thoughts and actions.  Some people may have a particularly high risk of having suicidal thoughts or actions.  These include people who have (or have a family history of) bipolar illness (also called manic-depressive illness) or suicidal thoughts or actions.  (emphasis added)

So, apparently, the people most at risk for having suicidal thoughts or actions are people who have suicidal thoughts or actions.  Very helpful.  Thanks.

“If I were you, I’d be really offended”

Yesterday, I had my committee meeting. Advisor seemed to think that it was very useful. I didn’t really get the same impression. Basically, I went in there, showed them my data, told them what I had left to do for my paper, we talked, I came out of there with the same list of things to do with a couple of exceptions, so there really wasn’t much of a change in my priorities.

Except that they think I don’t need to do the 3-color labeling experiment to which I can only say, “Hallelujah.”

One of my committee members, let’s call him Crazy Yeast Geneticist, came up with several ideas for “easy” experiments that took 15 minutes to explain. I looked at him liked he was whacked. Advisor looked at him like he was whacked. The other two committee members sat silent. Additionally, CYG gave me some advice on how to make my images look better in powerpoint (actually useful) and questioned why some of the experiments for this paper are being done by another grad sudent. His extremely helpful input culminated in a hissy fit about the way I presented a western blot* on a particular slide. I had created this slide for a talk at student seminar and the samples I wanted to show were far apart on the blot, so, for ease of presentation, I had chopped up the blot in photoshop to eliminate the middle lanes. It was obvious I had done this because the two samples were separated by white space. He was not pleased. I tried explaining this was a seminar slide that I wouldn’t be presenting it like this in the paper, that, in fact, I was redoing this experiment because I didn’t trust the detection system I used (which was the point I was trying to make about this data anyway) and when I did that I would be putting the samples side by side in the gel so that it wouldn’t look like this, etc., etc.** We moved on.

After the meeting, Advisor informed me that CYG got on his case about this (the committee tosses you out of the room at the end so that they can talk about you) and Advisor promised him he would look at the original raw data. I thought this would be like so many other things that my committee has said (“We want to see [X] from you by your next meeting,” where [X] is something ridiculous and I never do it and nothing ever happens), but at the end of our conversation Advisor reiterated that he promised CYG he’d look at the data and if he didn’t do it CYG promised to cause me trouble. Clearly, CYG had been much more emphatic with Advisor about the blot thing than he had been with me.**

Which is interesting because it seemed that I was the one that CYG was coming close to saying had manipulated her data in an unethical manner.

So, because I keep a kickass notebook, within 10 minutes of being back in the lab, I located these blots from a year ago and brought them in to Advisor’s office who asked me to scan them and email them to him. And then he said the following:

“If I were you, I’d be very offended by all of this, but if John Kerry’s presidential campaign has taught us anything it’s that when you are accused of something you should respond.”

So, I scanned them in, sent them to Advisor, who sent them to CYG.

So, to recap:

  1. Yesterday, I had a committee meeting.
  2. I got some useful advice about powerpoint.
  3. I heard several suggestions about ridiculous experiments.
  4. One of my committee members accused me of scientific misconduct.
  5. Advisor compared my experience to smear tactics used by a presidential campaign.

Yes, I can totally see why my department thought it was critical for me to have a committee meeting.

UPDATE (5/5/08):  Just got back from talking to my departmental administrator.  Apparently CYG has been in a mood lately and this isn’t the first very strange and disturbing incident she has heard about regarding him in recent weeks (though she wouldn’t say what the other incidents were about).

*Everytime I try to type “blot” my fingers type “blog.” Possibly I’m spending too much time on the internet.

**Also, I’m pretty sure I did the exact same thing when presenting my data at my last committee meeting with nary a word about the evils of photoshop and blogs blots. Something must’ve happened in between then and now (having nothing to do with me) to piss him off. Nice.