Lesson: Don't be a dirtbag
Lawd. It has been a minute since I had time (made time?) to write and think and not compute. It is without doubt that I do all manner of better when I take a bit of time to put some words down. I might start by answering the eternal question of "Sak pase?" , though despite the pithiness of the question, the answer is bulky. I'm in the midst of an impressive balancing act that may collapse at any moment. I've been concomitantly
One such instance scarred me in such a way that thinking about it for too long would cause me a good deal of nausea. The rush of the field season had me forgetting the simplest things, leaving me to ask for help when no other options were available. This was the case when the dewar of liquid nitrogen that I was using in the field met its capacity for samples. I'd brought this container to New Hampshire with me to deep-freeze soil microbes, but hadn't tested how many tubes of soil it could hold. Because I am cursed (and yet somehow highly favored) by the benevolent Goddess of Science, I met the container's capacity halfway through my trip. I was lucky to have multiple people help me find someone at a nearby university who could lend me another container so that I could collect more samples. I drove the two hours to Boston and profusely thanked the lender for being so kind and generous. The only thing they asked of me, while lending me a one thousand dollar piece of equipment, was to make sure the dewar never entered a lab that had used isotopically heavy nitrogen. Elements can occur in multiple forms, that is, isotopes, which have different atomic masses. Researchers use the naturally occurring proportions of an element's isotopes to learn about how elements are moving around in the environment. Other researchers add an unnaturally large quantity of a heavy isotope to things (air, water, soil) as a sort of label, and watch how the label moves in order to understand environmental processes. It's important that natural abundance equipment be kept away from spaces where heavy isotope labels were used. Even contact with the air in a isotope-label lab could throw off natural abundance measurement. The lender was justified in strongly reminding me not to bring the dewar into any labs, just in case. But after using the equipment, coming back to campus with my frozen samples, and giddily beginning to gather data, I remembered the lender's words. A wave of nausea crashed into me as I realized I'd let the dewar sit in a lab that might have used isotope labels, and that the equipment might be contaminated. Moreover, the dewar was on its way to the lender lab, and if brought inside, might contaminate the lenders entire lab area. I alerted the lender just in time to prevent career-annihilating disaster, but the lender was justifiably upset, and I was sure I might as well leave science to start my Mango of the Month business at that point (don't google this, it already exists, to my chagrin).
Where is this story going? Well, first of all be patient, this was a traumatic experience and it's selfish of you to demand immediate answers (and I love long winded stories). I was sure I'd severed a potential research relationship, and that the lender would never trust me again. Before dramatically giving up on research out of potent shame, I decided the right thing to do would be to replace the equipment with a new, clean item. It would cost me a big chunk of the grant money I'd earned, but it was literally the least I could do after being inducted into the grad student moron hall of fame. I was about ready to sulk into the shadows where ne'er do-well bo-bo's go to develop drinking problems when I got an email thanking me for my generous and kind actions. Wait, what? The lender was please and impressed with the fact that I handled the situation in a responsible and mature way. They thought that despite my ridiculously stupid move, I was proven more responsible and trustworthy than before this all happened. Its been long enough (maybe) since the incident happened that I can laugh uncomfortably about it, but I took away a very heartening nugget of wisdom from the entire kerfuffle. It really pays to not be a dirtbag and a cheapskate, and to do the "right thing", whatever that appears to be at the time. Though I was (am) a genuine pieceawork, taking responsibility for shitty things actually helps to develop a positive professional reputation that will spread much further than a negative one.
So don't be a scrub.
To document interesting ideas about science and nature and reflect on the experience of being a scientist from the margins.