Anatomy of (preparing to write) a scientific paper…

by Jim Caryl

IT IS probable that most readers won’t know how much effort it takes to get the results of a scientific investigation in to press. After months and months of work, copious experiments, repetitions, frustrations, banging head against the wall, we enter the next phase – the paper. The effort of will, the to-ing and fro-ing from author to author, author to editor, author to reviewer, author to author, author to reviewer, through revisions and heartache, all so that 99.9% of the working population will never read it, never even know that it exists.

07.00 - Eager with anticipation I hit the computer. I then hit it again, and this time it starts. I’m at work and I’m using one of the institute’s computers. Last night I painstakingly arranged the four lab books I think I need, together with copious scraps of paper bearing notes and ideas for sentences, comments, discussion points. I’m ready to go.

All. I. Need. to. do. is. write. this. paper.

07.05 – [Waiting for computer] Cup of tea.

07.20 – Computer has finished loading. Quickly check emails.

13.00 – Lunchtime and all I’ve got to show for it is five open browser windows, each containing 12 tabs of web pages; an email-driven surf safari gone wrong, and haven’t written a word. Ok, quick lunch and then get down to it.

14.03 – Right: ‘Based on these observations we propose a model of incremental recognition layered specificity in the assembly of…

[Knocking at door] Lab mate: ‘Can you remind me how to use the Fluorescence spectrometer….?’

16.20 – ‘Based on these observations we propose a model of incremental recognition layered specificity in the for assembly of…

[Knocking at door] Lab mate: “Fancy a coffee?”

16.45‘Based on these observations we propose a model of layered specificity in the assembly of nucleosomal control complexes…

[Prof. walks in and sits down] Prof.: “The group in Bristol want the details of that construct we sent them, they’ve lost it, and they also want the other construct from last year, whatever it’s called, I mentioned it to them and they like the idea. I’m off shortly so could you get them away today?”

[Frantic searching through a year's worth of meetings notes to identify what Prof means by 'other construct', then search archive freezer - once the lab manager has been found and the archive freezer key located. Realise that the sample was from July last year when I went on holiday, thus is poorly labelled as I was too excited to get out of the lab. Thirty minutes of cross-checking and I have the sample. Run to get items into last mail collection across campus in the mail centre.]

18.00 – ‘Based on these observations we propose a model of layered specificity incremental recognition in the assembly of nucleosomal control complexes…

[Decide to try working on a figure instead]

20.00 – Figure sorted. ‘Based on these observations we propose a model of layered specificity incremental recognition in the assembly of nucleosomal control complexes…

[Dinner]

22.00 - ‘Based on these observations we suggest that the nucleosome assembles stochastically.

[Save. Shut down computer. Walk home]

22.30 - Realise that your plan to continue writing was foiled by forgetting the crucial lab note book. It’s either another figure, or bed. Decide on bed, but worth just checking emails/news/blogs briefly on laptop.

02.30Drearily close laptop. Collapse in to bed.

[Start the whole sorry affair again tomorrow].

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