Tuesday, January 18, 2011

TMC Volume 2, Issue 3
Section II: What Work Looks Like to a Day Off

Work has been slow lately. Painfully slow. I feel like I’ve written that phrase at least 3 times in the past three weeks. What happened exactly?

I get in at 9:30. Pop my head in and say hi. Any tasks? Clean the lab. Make some tubes with some stuff in it. Label them.

Get to my desk by 9:35. Write down said tasks. Clean the lab. Make some tubes with some stuff in it. Label them.

Read Kotaku, Penny Arcade, and Firing Squad. It’s now 10am.

The Chinese volunteer is supposed to show up by at least 10am. At LEAST. But he doesn’t, so I call him. And he sounds like he’s just woken up. I ask what time he’s going to be in, and the only words he can seem to get out of his mouth are “I will be there later.”

I wait a bit longer. My boss comes over the bench to pick up something from the printer and asks me what I’m doing and why the volunteer hasn’t arrived yet. I tell her I’m reading, which I am. I’m reading Mere Christianity and my hidden Firefox window has Kotaku, Gmail, and Penny Arcade open.

It’s not 10:35am, and here comes my friend, the Chinese volunteer. He’s been working here at the lab for the past 2 months, and he is still wearing the same clothes. The SAME CLOTHES. A red and black track jacket, zipped all the way up, blue jeans of indistinguishable make, and old reeboks. And it smells like he’s been wearing the same clothes for the entire 2 months. And I have this creeping feeling that it’s seeping into my clothes too. My boss is trying to make it so that he works at a desk directly behind mine, and I’ve been secretly delaying this move as much as possible by moving on it very…slowly.

By the time he gets settled, it’s already around 11:30. Not to mention that a moment after he got in my boss dropped in AGAIN to see what was going on. I was still reading (Mere Christianity). And she talked to him for a while. She doesn’t seem to mind the stench. Or perhaps she doesn’t notice it. Which sounds unlikely, though is possible, because for whatever reason I don’t notice all the time too (hence my dreadful, dreadful fear that it’s somehow creeping into my senses as a result of homeostatic effects) since he always wear a lab coat over his clothes. Over ALL his clothes. He doesn’t take the track jacket off. Ever. I have yet to tell him that the lab coats only get washed when we send them to a dry cleaners. Which is probably twice. A year.

Now it’s 11:50. There’s a seminar today, as there is most Tuesdays during the regular school semester (for USC), which means free lunch and a watertight excuse to not sit at my desk for an hour. Of course, it means I have no “real” lunch break, but I don’t mind since I get free food and the seminars are usually highly informative. Today it’s about a clinical trial concerning a certain type of pediatric cardiac surgery. It’s amazing. I love learning about the heart and about surgical interventions in general. It’s the perfect combination. Of course, the best part of it is that it’s light on theory and heavy on results. Clinical trials of this size are rarely, if ever, conducted not just because of the complexity of a surgical procedure but also because it’s nigh-impossible to obtain consent from the patients AND cooperation from surgeons. It’s a fully randomized (!) study that contains over 500 participants and 15 (!) facilities across the US. Mindboggling, if you do a bit of digging.

After the seminar, I finally get to start on the tasks I need. It’s 1pm.

I take the elevator with a few other people (my boss and Chinese volunteer included). When we reach the 5th floor, I head back to my bench, my Chinese volunteer in tow, hoping to get to work on something, ANYTHING. As I open the door and keep it open for him, he continues PAST the door and lets me know that he is going to take his lunch break now and spend some time with his wife, who also works on the 5th floor. She changes her clothes on a daily basis. I’ve seen her once in awhile. She only has about 3 outfits though.

Now it’s 1:30pm. I’m clicking away reading more articles on kotaku than I care about, wondering if there’s a backlog of things I should have read (on kotaku. Not about work. I keep up with my work over kotaku articles!!). Nothing. He comes back to his desk and smiles with a big “I’m back!” Yes, yes I know you’re back. Thank you. Now can get something done?

So I start to show him what we need to do. We need to transfer some of this stuff into these tubes and add some antibiotic to them before doing so. Simple. But, he’s new to this so I want him to write it down, to make a task out of it. So that he remembers how to do it, and so he learns what he should do when asked to do more complicated things. Simple. I ask him to get “his notebook” and he immediately picks up a small memo pad, similar to one that I use for taking notes on seminars and tasks, and begins to write down what I’m saying. But I said notebook. NOTE BOOK. Like your lab notebook. Your LAB NOTEBOOK. You know, the thing you’re supposed to use to record what you do, your job, the official part of your job that you’re learning about by volunteering in a research facility? YOUR RESEARCH NOTEBOOK? Yeah. That. Get that.

So I tell him, “I want you to treat this like an experiment. I know it’s very simple, but it’s important to learn how to write it down and get used to writing it all out, step by step.” He says ok. So I tell him to go for it. And he just starts writing stuff. And then I have to stop him and remind him to look on the most recent page and show him that he needs a title, the date, the notebook #. The list of materials. Now, before you think I’m being too hard, realize that he’s been here for 2 months. 2 months and we’ve done this before. With many other things. More complex things. More straightforward things. At least 6 times already. Of varying difficulty. And he doesn’t remember. Or at least, he doesn’t think it’s important.

Eventually we get to the part where we are filling the tubes with the stuff. It’s 2:30pm. He’s halfway done with this “experiment”. He thought it wouldn’t take this long. I see him getting restless. He gives me some looks and his body language is telling me that he’s feeling frustrated. Frustrated that perhaps I didn’t help him enough. That I didn’t do enough of the work. He still seems to think that he can’t do anything on his own. Or maybe he doesn’t want to.

Halfway through this “experiment” my boss drops in again to let me know she wants 2 electrophoresis gels made and ready for running tomorrow. And that she wants Cvo (that’ll be my new name for him. He has a name. But Cvo it is not) to do it. Alone. He’s done this before. Without my assistance or input. But I think you know where this is going.

By the time that ordeal is done, it’s 4:40pm and I want to go home…

It may sound like a lot happened, but a quick browse and you’ll see that all I got done was what I was tasked to do. And I didn’t even really get a chance to do all that (Clean the lab). Slow? Yeah…efficient? Far from it.

Still, a job is a job. And I must admit, I don’t mind this job one bit.