Wednesday, February 27, 2013

The stuff that dreams are made of...

Although lab work sometimes can be tedious and the payback may be questionable, although sometimes you feel like nothing is truly moving forward, the overall trajectory that your life follows when you commit to an academic career can be very satisfactory. Today, the first email I received was one from Rijeka, in Croatia (somewhere in Europe), informing me that the book I edited and for which we contributed one full chapter has finally been published. It is available online at

It is stuff like this that makes you feel that your efforts are worth it. It is almost as good as the satisfaction I feel when my students let me know that they "are getting it" and that they "enjoy my classes." But nothing compares with the feeling you get when you get emails like this one that I received yesterday:

"Hello Dr. Rosas-Acosta, I just recieved a letter from Boston for the EMSSP program and I thought it would interest you to know that I have been asked to go to Boston for an interview! I am very happy and would like to thank you from the bottom of my heart for this, without you this would have not been possible.

Thank you,"

Yep, an academic career can be pretty satisfactory. Doing research is second to nothing. And teaching young minds and opening doors to hundreds of brilliant students is also second to nothing. 

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

When the boss makes time to be in lab...

I had the opportunity today to work along side the boss, which reminded me of the days that I first starting working in the lab. In the beginning, I was learning things that I had never done before and other things that I was familiar with, but had long forgotten how to do. At that time, you try to pick up the little tips and tricks that make science so much more than luck, but skill. I was transported back today to those days when I first started, but I knew when the timer started to sound that it is just a faint memory.

Monday, February 25, 2013

Approaching the boss...

Tactics to approaching the boss...

   Anytime during the day

Anytime during the day...  with DATA!!

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Science or Art?

Two days ago, one of my graduate students posted this in our data blog. It looked pretty impressive and really got my attention. This simple array of green bands tells a pretty complex story. On one hand, it tells the sequence of a region of DNA. It does so by producing a small fragment of DNA that ends when a dideoxynucfleotide is incorporated by DNA polymerase,  therefore preventing the incorporation of any other nucleotide in the DNA. There are four lanes for each DNA segment, one for each nucleotide, and when you combine the four lanes you get the full sequence of that segment of DNA. The big green bands are PCR products. The other story told by this picture is the one I like the most: the story of the graduate student who one day indicated his interest in studying one very complex process that was likely to be taking place during influenza infection. He chose to study the effect of SUMO on the viral RNA polymerase. And during the execution of those studies, he has faced the need to develop new experimental approaches, including the one represented in this figure. So, this figure shows the persistence and resourcefulness of a graduate student who hasn't given up, who has persisted, and who now is finally set to start collecting data that will reveal, for the first time in human history, to what degree the cellular SUMOylation system affects the activity of the viral RNA-dependent RNA-polymerase. That second story is one that I'm proud to say is possible in my laboratory. And that second story is likely to open up unforeseen paths of subsequent exploration for my lab, and unexpected possibilities for the student responsible for the discoveries to follow.
The data shown is beautiful. Not only because of the harmony of the colors and their distribution in space, but most importantly because of the stories it tells. Science and art  converge frequently in unexpected ways. I am frequently awed by both. One of the greatest things about directing a lab is to know that you are providing the environment where human creativity and scientific exploration converge to foster human knowledge and human lives. From this perspective, a lab is a place where you can generate data that may change the way we treat and combat disease. But it is also the place where the careers of the new generation of scientists get started. And it is a pleasure and an honor to be a part of both processes.
Overall mood: highly optimistic, looking forward for the data to follow.
Forecast: my student will sometime soon post the actual data that follows the standardization presented in this image and we'll have a good excuse to have another party.

Friday, February 22, 2013

Finally found the boss working at lab....

Soooooo this afternoon... I was walking around the lab looking for some stuff.... Then I found Dr. Rosas it surprised me... I was so happy seeing him working around the lab... =D

GRA's next car

I posted this on the fb recently and thought I'd share this with the group.  Seriously, I think we may need to stage a technology intervention if this ever happens.  ;p
It is hard to deal with not knowing what you are doing wrong in an experiment. Not because you have to do it again, that is the least of the worries, but because if you don't know what is wrong you can't fix it. 

Though this is also a great way to challenge your ingenuity and patience. 

Cleanliness may be the key! I don't know, I always think I am being extra careful in my cleanliness. 

Being extra careful may be the key! I don't know, I always think I am being extra careful.  Well, working with microscopic organisms is really amazing.  You have to be a perfectionist in your experiments.  At least cells and viruses don't have feelings.  Or do they? Working with people is way harder to deal with. 

Thursday, February 21, 2013

In a lab you will find more than just science on the bench

Today as I was walking down the aisle in the laboratory I bumped into something that seemed like a pretty naughty scene to me... As scientists we know that life always comes from another living organism... but have you ever sat down to think about where do tissue culture flasks come from?? I think that today I finally found the answer to that scientific question :O and by looking at these T25 flasks it seems like they start reproducing pretty young!

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Welcome to Science...

When you spend an ENTIRE day analyzing data for an experiment and it's all done, life just feels so damn good!

You feel proud making a meeting with the boss to show your awesome results, ....

and then you realize tomorrow will be exactly like the day you just finished and you have to go back and re-analyze everything using a different method according to the boss.....

When I'm told I need to re-do all my data

It's all good though, as soon as I graduate, I'll be like....


For sho'

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

How many is too many?

When my lab got started, there were only two souls in the lab. Me and my technician who was my loyal companion during my first two years as an independent scientist. Nowadays I have 3 PhD students, 3 Master students, and 16 undergraduate students in my lab. Yesterday, while talking to one of my Master students, she indicated how she longed for the old times when she had plenty of room to call her own. That simple statement brought up this question: have we passed the limit? Are we too many for our own good? Life in a research lab is a fine need the hands, you need the brains, there are always too many interesting questions claiming to be answered. But how many brains and how many hands are too many? Also, not everyone contributes two hands and one brain, some times you get the hands but not the brain and sometimes you get the brain but not the hands. What do you do in those cases? Is it best to keep only the ones that come as a complete set? Or is it OK to accept the parts and try to make the best out of them? As of now, it seems like we are moving forward and there is some momentum. Perhaps the number issue is not too much of an issue, at least for now. One thing is for sure, though: not too many of them are willing to spill out their feelings in this blog. So far, it is only me (and I only get to do it when I want to take a break from my other many tasks).

Sunday, February 17, 2013


The process of writing a paper...long nights in front of the computer.
If only the reviewers could be a bit faster on their decision...
47 days after submitting the reviewed version of our latest paper, after having fixed pretty much everything that was criticized by the reviewers, we are still waiting for their response. The long waiting period involved in all the processes that require peer review is the one thing I truly dislike about the way we do science nowadays. I wonder if this frustration is shared by everyone or if the group of people who are not that happy with the way peer review works is relatively small. I was involved in reviewing a couple of papers recently. It seemed like the journals wanted to have the reviews back in less than a week. I held them a few extra days (yep, guilty as charged!), but I'm sure it didn't take me more than week and a half. If that's the standard that seems to be the followed by most of the journals, why can't it be that way with the journals I pick for our papers?
Overall mood: Frustration.
Forecast: When the reviews comeback they may still want something else...
What to do next: Forget about it and start working at full strength on the new paper for which we have already most of the figures ready.