face-palm moments in my short scientific career
“Baaaaaaaa!!!! I just stabbed myself…!”
This is what my lab partner yelled out the other day while we were injecting some experimental animals.
Whilst the average person might find this disturbing, this is not an abnormal day for a scientist. In fact, if you get through a day without at least one moment where you lower your head into your hands and just think “Oh my God, that was so stupid!” … you clearly didn’t work hard enough.
You see science may be ruled by logic and reason, but it is in fact painfully precise, unpredictable and an avid follower of Murphy’s Law. It revels in making idiots of us scientists who are essentially human. The lab is, by its very nature, out to get us.
Whilst I could unquestionably embarrass myself by detailing an array of face-palm moments I’ve so far experienced in my short scientific career (I will sacrifice my integrity and mention some), the fact is that scientists are a perverted bunch who will repeatedly return to the lab for combat, regardless of how many times the aforementioned laboratory bites our butts through our lab coats.
Face-palm moments have actually become such an integral part of my day that I welcome them, talk to them and evaluate them. Face-palms and I are good friends. I have seized attempting to stop or prevent them. This is why:
There is no point in fighting the face-palms. You need to accept them and roll with them.
My favourite face-palm moments:
- When the centrifuge isn’t balanced and it suddenly makes a sound of death that belongs in the depths of hell.
- When you poured pure acetone into a plastic cup.
- When you put the western blot transfer on back-to-front.
- When you didn’t compute that the -80 degree freezer is so cold it would burn your fingertips.
- When you turned on the white light before sticking your film in the processor.
- The day your professor found you, between incubations, curled up under your desk sleeping off a hangover (why was he at work on a Sunday morning!?).
- When someone corrects you for calling Tukey’s post-hoc test “Turkey’s test” (which regrettably put a lid on my internal bok bok bokking).
- When you were trying for a good fifteen minutes to get the vortex to work and then realise it’s turned off at the power point… in front of an undergrad student.
- When the rat jumped, making you jump, stabbing yourself with the syringe and the rat escapes. Then the fire alarm goes off and you have to evacuate.
- When a piece of cadaveric specimen flicks off your scalpel onto your face.
- When you drive all the way to work to get some lab work done before everyone turns up, only to realise you left your swipe card at home.
- When you ask the head of a prominent research group “… and who are you?”
- When you realise your best friends are your referencing program and word processor.
- The day you said out loud, “Why do you need to test the negative control? Won’t it be negative anyway?”
- When you get caught doing a crazy dance to get the auto lights to turn on.
- When you messaged your supervisor about the Gel Doc but the dictionary autocorrected it to Gel Dick.
- When you realise you’re the one who has to refill the liquid nitrogen.
- When you’re in the lab observing neurons on a Saturday night while your friends are out killing theirs with ethanol.
- When you spend days performing every single parametric stat possible and then realise your data is not normally distributed.
Like everything in life, there is most certainly a yin and yang to science. Not all science is bad… face-palms are typically offset with some significant fist-pumps:
- When p<0.05.
- When you receive the recommendation: publish with minor revision.
- When you finally learn how to say “gas chromatography-mass spectrometry” without needing to scrunch up your face whilst retrieving it from your memory.
- When you can cite your own paper.
- When your incubation is long enough for you to drink a coffee.
- When the outcome of your experiment disproves your original hypothesis, but results in a significantly improved new hypothesis which will have higher impact.
- When the editor gets over hearing from you and finally accepts your manuscript.
- When experiment 2 explains experiment 1, which you were quietly panicking about.
- When you transform the lab into a nightclub by turning the lights down and your headphone volume up.
- When you have no cash and then a Sales Rep turns up and buys you lunch because they think you have funding that needs to be spent.
- When the air conditioning breaks in the middle of summer but you have access to the 4 degree cold room.
- When your next conference is on a tropical island.
Despite our common woes, life as a scientist isn’t really so bad – which is why we keep coming back. In my experience its easier to remain open-minded and accept that you can’t control everything. Science is about resilience and riding the wave! Its character building!
Although I am known to have a blonde moment now and then (or a bit more often), I cannot take full credit for all these face-palm and fist-pump moments, which I collated from my fellow neuro nerds and bundled them up to make you laugh a little