Monday, October 18, 2010

Have you ever visited It is a wonderful charity that connects donors with classroom teachers in need. I just created a Science Bloggers for Students Page to help support low-income science and math classrooms. And I am inviting you to help support this project.

The average public school teacher spends $500 - $700 on classroom supplies out of his/her own pocket, and many students still go without critical supplies they need to learn. The way this website works is by teachers posting requests (microscopes, DNA kits, field trips to the zoo), and anyone can help fund them. Many companies and foundations help sponsor these projects by doubling the amount given by donors!

More than 50 science bloggers have joined together for a month to help fund science projects on In the first week alone almost $15,000 were donated, which will help more than nine thousand students! There is even a competition going on to see which blogger can bring the most donations. I know I am a small fish, but every dollar counts. You can visit my Science Bloggers for Students Page to make a donation. I have chosen projects that I would like to see funded, but feel free to browse around for projects that you find important.

Thanks in advance for your support!

Thursday, October 14, 2010

And then one day it's done...

The genetic/biochemical screen, I mean. The screen that has consumed my working hours throughout this past year. The screen that was supposed to be high-throughput but was not. The screen that made me, for the first time in my life, consider abandoning science. I was on the verge of trading the lab for a scrapbook store - despite the odds of opening any sort of business in this tanked economy and the fact that I have never worked in a store in my life. I was feeling truly desperate this summer.

I am not an "-omics" person, I am a mechanism person. I never liked the large-scale experiments that try to list all the players in the game. I prefer to look at a player and seek out its role and how it plays the game. But when you are looking at pathways you need players, and you cannot just rely on what others have found. Sometimes you just need to go fishing or you will only eat someone else's fried fish.

As much as I tried this past year to focus on the light at the end of the tunnel - the candidates that should come out of this screen - the work itself distressed me. Even though the pilot studies gave me candidates and I knew I would be getting a lot of possible players from the screen. Even though the majority of the screen was accomplished in six months. Even though I had help from my technician.

After a lot of pondering I think I discovered what my aversion to this screen was. Yes, it was tedious doing the same experiments week after week, but I have done boring experiments before - there is not much excitement in Michaelis-Menten curves. Boring was not the problem. I believe my exasperation was due to the lack of perfection; the fact that I knew I was missing things.

Screens are sloppy by nature, even the best-planed ones. It is unfathomable to test each of the 6000 mutants individually, in triplicate experiments with at least three data points each - that I can do for the however many candidates I get from the screen. In a screen you throw a net and pull out what gets caught. It is not perfect; it is extensive but not exhaustive. And there is a limited amount of time and money one can spend on the first step before moving to the next - interesting - phase.

I never thought I would say I hated anything, let alone something at work, until now. I am positive I never want to do another screen in my life, but I know there is another one that should be started next year. We even got a shiny new toy for it. I just have to hope that my sanity will survive it..