by Jim Caryl
THE thing about being a practising scientist working in academia is that when such a practising scientist decides they want to write more about science in general, they remember that academia is a toxic gas that expands to fill all available space.
We might hope for reprieve from standing at the bench, just a small amount of time to get a handle on our writing, a quick moment to imbibe some of the multiple streams of information from emails, journal table of contents, RSS feeds; alas, the moment a window opens, it is filled with responsibility. This may come in the form of the help you promised someone when you next got a chance; or hunting down an expensive enzyme in neighbouring labs, of which you require a mere fraction of a unit for a throw-away experiment; it could be trying to find a journal article with some essential information, rather than one that is actually interesting. Alternatively, you may just sit and stare into space, your brain already so depleted of sugar that you are protocolling on auto-pilot.
Having filled your day with preparations for experiments, and the remaining 5% of it getting to finally do the experiments, you turn your attention to your student, who is working on a completely different project, with its own set of unique and inconvenient problems, and for which you must but don’t have answers.
Having finally left the lab, if you’re lucky, you’ll manage to get home in time to cook some award winningly simple food (credit us with some respect, some of us do cook from scratch), which is invariably eaten in front of the computer while you finally get to sift through the now ridiculously over-burgeoning information stream, which now includes – lucky me – about a million twitter entries and their links.
Ultimately, if you’re not ready to go by 2 am, you have two choices: either spiral into pit of information overload, eyes glazing over as the numerous ideas that pop into your head leave just as fleeting and unformed as they arrived; or sleep.
There are of course some researchers out there who do manage overwhelmingly with both their professional and private pursuits, hell, I even manage it myself sometimes. But right now, I need a week’s worth of sleep.