Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Captain Obvious to the rescue

Our lab recently acquired a new manager, who up until recently was research faculty in another lab in my department. During the 8+ years spent in the previous lab, he published several papers, but none of them were first author, a curious tidbit of information that my PI and I discussed quite a bit. It wasn't a deal breaker for the lab manager job, which largely consists of ordering, managing the undergrad that makes media and sterilizes lab supplies and research odds and ends, but we were curious as to the reason.
Since this new lab manager started, the reasons for this authorship issue is becoming somewhat clear. First of all, everything that comes out of his mouth is a well-established fact presented as a novel connection that he just discovered. Some examples of this include statements like: "Microarrays cost much less than they used to" and "Instead of remelting your agarose or storing it in the water bath, you can pour all of it at once." (This is the equivalent of stating that computers are faster than they were 10 years ago or one box of cake batter could make one big cake, two round cakes or multiple cup cakes.) Because of statements like these, I impart on him the pseudonym, Captain Obvious.
On the one occasion, since he started in the lab, that Capt. Obvious informed me of something new and potentially interesting, he ended up scurrying away from me after I asked him a few questions about it. Sure, I was a little short with him, but telling someone that they must not be working because they are on their computer, is not a great way to get help. Anyway. He showed me a schematic he created from an alignment of several sequences obtained from different strain backgrounds. Interestingly, he identified several inversions and rearrangements that our lab was unaware of. After Capt. O forced me to look at these alignments I asked him what he thought about them. Which genes are inverted? What do the flanking regions look like? Have you looked at papers X, Y or Z? The answers were "don't know" to all of them, followed by a shrug. So, I asked if he planned on finding any of the answers to these questions. His response was a nervous laugh and a look of indifference. I felt like I was in the middle of third grade show-and-tell.
This annoys the crap out of me. First of all, even if I was playing on the internet, don't interrupt me with data that you are uninterested in pursuing. You don't need to justify your time in the lab to me. Actually, if that is what you are doing, then exhibiting a complete lack of thoughtfulness about the information that you presented makes finding the data seem like a waste of time. Making sterile tips or LB would assist my research, not random sequence alignments.
I am starting to see why Capt. O was unable to produce a first author paper in almost a decade. Capt. O does possess good technical skills and is well versed in statements of fact, but he is limited in his abilities to plan out experiments and generate a hypothesis.


Cath@VWXYNot? said...

Oh the fun of imagining the titles of his papers that got rejected.

"Fruit flies have wings!"

"DNA is coily!"

"OMG you can grow bacteria on plates!!!!11!!"

Rhea Miller said...

My lab got an application for a dishwasher/restocker recently and their resume was a good 4 pages long...yikes. This person went into detail about how they understood waaaay more about science than others with statements similar to...Well, I know that you cannot just dispense your pipette tip into sterile broth because the end of the tip is ACTUALLY contaminated.

If we hired that person, I think I would be in jail...and im not typically a violent person.

Good Luck XX...you may need it to keep you from throwing Capt Obvious down the stairs.

chall said...

wow, it sounds interesting. I am again happy that Ihave at least one first author papaer from my post doc so maybe I too can get a lab manager position in the future??

I don't know if I want to but the opbvious thing sounds a tad bit annoying. It's like "so, what do you want to do with that info"?

Good luck and remember not to choke him or yourself...

microbiologist xx said...

cath - LOL. Fruit flies have wings...who knew. :)

rhea miller - 4 pages?!?! Glad to see you passed on that one. I will stay away from the stairs.

chall - If you do become a lab manager, apparently you won't need to stay updated on the literature since you can just tell people stuff they already know. :)) Thank god I only have a couple months left in this lab. Then again, the new lab is sure to have plenty of irritating people to take his place.