10 things to do when everything is broken forever

For all of you potential readers contemplating a career in research, I have one thing to say to you:

Things are going to go wrong. All the flipping time.

On Tuesday, I suffered a bit of a set-back in which my samples, for no apparent reason, tanked. They’re not dead yet, but all of my carefully planned to-do lists for the next month and a bit have been completely thrown out of the window.

This isn’t the first time this has happened and it won’t be the last. In fact, as any PhD student or post-doc will tell you, this happens A LOT. It’s so common it’s almost a rite of passage in the lab. So I thought I would channel all of my unintentional experience into a list of 10 things to do when everything is broken forever.

It’s foolproof (note a).

Number 1: Cry


There is no shame in being the crazy person crying in the middle of the laboratory. Extra style points can be earned by weeping on public transport. (this is also a tried and tested method for obtaining a seat during peak hour)

Number 2: Throw things

It is advisable, however, to go for the less expensive laboratory equipment such as the box of centrifuge tubes, rather than the hideously expensive Mass Spectrometer (note b).

Number 3: Glare at strangers and acquaintances

For extra points, combine this with number 1 for a seat all to yourself on the train.

Number 4: Drown your sorrows in chocolate cookies which you happened to make the day before 

Alternatively, if you possess markedly less foresight than myself, you can closet yourself in your university’s chemical storage room and pour a glass of phenylethylamine (note c).

Same thing (note d).

Number 5: Re-evaluate your life choices

It’s never too late to quit and start that bakery or write your magnum opus.

Number 6: Re-evaluate the finely honed to do list you had planned down to the minute

See number 1.

Number 7: Sing to your samples

Let’s face it, after successfully completing numbers 1-4, you’ve probably lost the ability to feel shame. Singing, playing music or interpretive dance, will possibly only work for samples which are alive. I will not be held responsible for researchers singing to their glassware.

Number 8: Curl up on the couch and watch people being more successful at things than you in the winter Olympics

Note, this step is time-specific. If you do not happen to be in an Olympic year, other programs to watch include Master Chef, Dragon’s Den, The Biggest Loser or, for extra incentive to stick at your soul-crushing research job, The Bachelorette.

Number 9: Write that paper you’ve been putting off

Because heaven forbid you should actually do something even remotely useful.

Number 10: Accept the fact that it wasn’t your fault, there’s nothing you can do about it and that the world is not going to end in a ball of flame because your samples may or may not have died

Because it’s not your fault. Most of the time things go wrong because an instrument failed or someone got the instrument you need to use booked before you. Or, in my case, things go wrong for no reason whatsoever.

Oh well. If things were easy, they wouldn’t be worth doing now would they?

Would they?



Note a: Disclaimer: Adherence to the advice contained within these ten steps will definitely lead to emotional instability and, in the case of number 3, death.

Note b: The former option does not require the years spent researching gamma radiation in an attempt to “hulk out”

Note c: While chocolate has been shown to contain phenylethylamine, a compound responsible for the release of dopamine in the brain, it is present in significantly lower concentrations than, say, a bottle of pure phenylethylamine. An excerpt from the MSDS for the compound states that it is:

Hazardous in case of skin contact (irritant, sensitizer), of eye contact (irritant), of inhalation (lung irritant). Corrosive to skin and eyes on contact. Liquid or spray mist may produce tissue damage particularly on mucous membranes of eyes, mouth and respiratory tract. Skin contact may produce burns. Inhalation of the spray mist may produce severe irritation of respiratory tract, characterized by coughing, choking, or shortness of breath. Severe over-exposure can result in death.

Note d: It’s not.


The mighty, marvellous, magnanimous, miraculous miracle berry

If you’re a fan of the British TV show, QI, you’ve probably heard of the Miracle Berry. Synsepalum dulcificicum has been used in Western Africa for generations, to make harsh, acidic foods taste like they’ve been dipped in sugar. A few days ago, I got to try some and let me tell you, there is nothing more brain-twisty than lifting a slice of lemon to your mouth fully expecting your face to be turned inside out, but then all you taste is sherbet.

It’s weird. Here’s how it works.

Also please forgive the video quality – the more I venture into this area of media communications, the more I learn about how to frame a shot (… or not, as you’ll see), lighting, flow and a whole pile of other things I want to make better the next time I make a video. I had a blast creating this though so I call that a win. Hope you enjoyed it as much as I did!