29 September 2009

Common conversations in a laboratory setting:


Advisor: Are you sure you spun down the samples?

Grad student: Yes

Advisor: Are you sure the tube had samples when you spun them down?

Grad student: Yes

Advisor: Are you sure the centrifuge was working when spinning down the samples?

Grad student: Yes

Advisor: Are you sure that the centrifuge was plugged on?

Grad student: Yes

Advisor: Ok. Do this experiment again


Grad student: I do not know why this didn’t work

Advisor: It worked last time when Jennifer (lab technician) did it

Grad student: Maybe we need to order fresh antibodies

Advisor: It worked last time when Jennifer used the old antibodies

Grad student: Maybe there is no true association

Advisor: Maybe you are stupid

Grad student: Pardon me?

Advisor: Ok. Do this experiment again


Lab technician: Hey, pick the trash

Grad student: I am in the middle of an experiment

Lab technician: Hey, prepare the buffers

Grad student: But I had prepared them just 2 hours back

Lab technician: Hey, do my Western. I’m going home

Grad student: Hey !

Advisor: Bye (to lab technician). You are coming this Saturday right? (to grad student)


Post-doc: Myc family of transcription factors contain bHLH/LZ domain and through its bHLH domain can bind to DNA, while the leucine zipper domain allows the dimerization with its partner Max, another bHLH transcription factor.

Grad student: Whoa! What the heck?

Post-doc: This is my desk. Get off

Grad student: That’s your desk. This is mine.

Post-doc: Now both are mine.

Grad student: But I love my Mac

Post-doc: My Mac. Use your laptop

Grad student: Sniff!

Post-doc: Are those my pants you are wearing?

Friday (afternoon 3pm)

Lab-technician: Bye

Grad student: Bye

Post-doc: Bye

Grad student: Bye

Advisor: Bye

Grad student: Bye (and starts his experiment)

Saturday (in lab)

Grad student: Is anybody there?

Sunday (in lab)

Grad student: Is anybody there?

22 September 2009

I just hit half a century with over 50 posts in Pittsburgh. The journey has been great … you have all been incessantly stopping me from not blogging … I applaud your masochistic attributes. Looking forward to bomb you with more posts in the days to come. Thanks again for everything!

So Julia Roberts was shooting for this movie called ‘Eat, Pray, Love’ and she had priests performing a hawan to ensure the movie does not bomb at the box office. The hotel she resides in has a unique Yoga center; and on the first day of the shot, she wore Indian attires and ate Indian food with her bare hands. She finds Gulab Jamun the most amazing of all (atleast Julia and me have similar and good tastes). She thinks “India is really amazing” (Courtesy: Rediff.com)

And this news becomes an article in most of the Indian newspapers. So the Indians are happy that she thinks India is amazing, the Hindus are happy because she’s performing sacred rituals, the media is happy because they captured an event that can sell. As usual, I’m the one who’s not happy. And as for Julia Roberts, she probably doesn’t even know that an article was written about her in an Indian newspaper.

Lets say the King Khan – Shahrukh came to Pittsburgh and ate a pepperoni pizza using a fork and a knife. He wore a hoodie which read ‘Old Navy’ and he wore GAP denims. Can you picture an article in the post-gazzette which reads ’Indian actor dines in American restaurant; he wore an American hoodie and jeans; ate using knives and forks; and he thinks Pittsburgh is a great place to be’? I would love to see something like that.

It certainly is a wonderful thing to know that someone 8000 miles away thinks our country is great. But that certainly shouldn’t be the source of our patriotism, right? That is not the only reason why we should feel proud about our country. Why wait for some gora or gori to groove on our Indian cultures and then bask in glory for belonging to that country? I really think the newspapers should get their priorities right.

I hate to preach. So I’ll make this as short as possible. If someone tells you that they think India is a great country – just tell them you know it already. But do not run around everywhere announcing that an X or a Y thinks India is great. That’s precisely what our newspapers are doing right now.

20 September 2009

Far far away, on a mystical land where the sun rose in the east and set in the west, where stars twinkled, where graduate students toiled for free food and western blots continuously failed, there lived a great graduate student called 'Ram'. He lived in Ayodhya Apartments which was managed by Lobos - promising realtors who tried everything in their might to prevent the death of their tenants (especially due to bathroom flooding).

His advisor Dr. Dasharatha (MD/PhD) was a great man who collaborated with evil principal investigators like Dr. Kaikeyi to whom publications were more important than the funding of graduate students. On the day Ram finished his lab rotation, Dr. Dasharatha crowned him with the most coveted GSR position much to the irritation of his collaborator. Dr. Kaikeyi then reminds Dr. Dasharatha about the contractual agreements of the collaboration and sends Ram into an endless journey of finding protein interactions using Westerns and CO-IPs. Meanwhile, Bharata, the new post-doc enjoys all the limelight, the new lab coat, the personal cubicle, and more such amenities while Ram struggles with just granola bars for lunch.

Sita, the lab technician and Lakshman, the annoying undergrad accompany Ram in this perilous adventure where dangers like Santa Cruz antibodies and wrong buffers could ruin their lives. After traversing through the chasm of death filled with take-home-exams and paper discussions, and slaying the two demonic journal club presentations, Ram finally comes to face Dr. Ravana and Co. - his thesis committee!

Dr. Ravana has everything in him to make the lives of graduate students miserable. His presence and aura gives self destructing attributes to the students; Dr. Ravana himself and his army (from other departments) were all set to launch a brutal attack on Ram. Lanka Hall, the new conference room in Scaife Hall would be the battlefield. The battle has begun. Ram dodges, bends, ducks, moves, retaliates, fires, and finally emerges out of the battlefield, hurt, hungry, tired, insulted, injured, exasperated, and yet victorious and relieved !

Baratha personally comes to receive Ram and gives a piece of his half-eaten pizza to him. Back in the kingdom, Dr. Dasharatha is happy to have his graduate student back, qualifiers cleared, and looks forward to put him through another infinite years of frustration and lab bench maintenance.

Thus ends the greatest epic of all times - the Ramayan - the journey of Ram - a true story depicting the ideal advisor, the ideal graduate student, and the ideal committee, the duties of life, the duties of relationships, and the duties to be performed during incubation times (checking gmail, playing farmville, updating status messages, and for people like me, blogging!)
At the end of the academic year, there is something you have to do which you'd detest to the core of your heart and yet you oblige to with an innocent smile. It forces you to dig deep and distill out your creativity until you are mentally drained. To push things for the worse, you have to do this not once, but again - and again - and again and again! Neither am I talking about examinations, nor am I talking about writing the eternal love letter to your (in)significant someone. I'm talking about filling in the slam books!

One question that often stumped me was about what my most embarrassing moment was! I would be petrified at this question - not because I could not recall any particular incident; I just do not know how to prioritize and place the worst moments of my life in order. They are so many and I need to attach supplemental sheets along with the slam book!

For the cartoonic life that I lead, I don't necessarily get embarrassed by what I do. To top it all, I have a room mate who complements me in every single way. Yet, I have put myself into certain awkward situations wherein I have realized, anything I say would make the situation much much worse!

Maybe I should write about the crazy elevator ride. Being in a country where at a given time, millions of people are on elevators all over America ... I find the elevator journey the most boring of all especially when I travel alone. Especially in Western Psych, I had to go all the way to the 14th floor - the journey would get so tiring that I'd have jet lag at the end of it. It was believed that the 14th floor fell under a different time zone but it was debatable. I had to entertain myself with a few somersaults, scratching my nails against the sides of the walls, and breathing out air into the CCD camera which was as dead as a dodo. Or so I wished. The camera was in perfect condition and the receptionist would have a great time everyday watching her personal cartoon network channel. She had 6 television screens and I was on her most favorite one every morning and every evening. I was even considering doing a ballroom dance with my laptop when the receptionist lady finally told me how amusing I was to her. That was the end of my dancing days - then on I stood so still that she must have mistook me for a cardboard cutout.

Maybe I should write about my great adventures on my palace on wheels. One thing I was sure about - no soul would care to bother me in a cancer lab late nights. There was this football match that day - Americans would be kicking away towards obesity and vocal cord damage. My samples were running across the gel and I had time to kill. One premium advantage of working in an American research lab is - their chairs have wheels. One could conveniently lie flat on his/her stomach over the chair and glide away across the room at 15 miles per hour. And glide away I did ... nothing was more exciting than that. Its true when they say that research is interesting - the incubation times are when most breakthroughs happen. Wasn't that when I figured out that I could garner more speed if I took a run up before falling flat on the chair and roll away to the end of the lab? I did it. Speed, I did garner. And also some shocked expressions from an advisor who had just walked in to grab some of his sheets. It worries me to put myself in his shoes - a respectable advisor who believes in doing Science for altruistic purposes sees a graduate student, tummy pressed to the seat, rolling away knocking against expensive instruments along his wonderful journey.

Maybe I should write about my fine observation skills that made quite a lot of heads turn. It so happened that I was way too early in the Atlanta airport and was passing away my time by rating girls as they passed (i'm generally lenient - the lowest I gave that day was 7 and only because she had too much hair on her eyebrows). The exasperated lady next to me decided to let go of some body fluids and requested me to look after her luggage. Being the two goody shoes (and secretly hoping she's a queen who'll give me half her kingdom and her daughter's hand for marriage for my good deeds), I gladly agreed. Not even two minutes had passed, there came a woman trying to tug her luggage off to a different place. Would I let her? I made it my responsibility to save the luggage from unscrupulous hands. If this stranger crazy lady wanted to steal away the luggage, she'd have to do it over my dead body. I tried to convince her that this luggage belongs to someone else and she tried hard to convince me that she herself is that someone else. I remembered her black overcoat. This lady does not have a black overcoat. I still held on to her luggage in one hand, a little confused myself. Heads were turning, people were looking up from their newspapers, there was a bit of awkward expressions on our faces. She won the staring competition. Unabashedly, she pulled away her luggage from me, wore the black overcoat given to her by her little daughter who came dancing like a daisy from the nether world and walked away and sat a good distance away from me. I wouldn't have been surprised if people moved their personal bags closer to themselves after seeing this weird me who denies people what rightly belongs to them.

What's my most embarrassing moment? When I slid on the bus on my bottom, or when my friends caught me for the possession of compact powder and a fairness cream? When i bowled my first leather ball which took 13 pitches before it reached the batsman, or when I strongly argued that the sacred cow was masculine with my coach? When i wore a semi-transparent dhoti in front of about 250 relatives, or when I lost in a running race (a relay actually) only because I ran in the opposite direction? It is said that the rate at which a person can mature is directly proportional to the embarrassment he can tolerate. I think I'm not doing that bad in this arena...

The journey was to be short. Words, if at all spoken, would be very few. There was no time to make new friends. We knew we’d be going separate ways. It was highly unlikely I’d run into the same person again. Even if I did, it wouldn’t matter. We would fail to remember each other. That didn’t matter either. Some friendships last forever; some last only a minute.

It is pretty interesting to note how many strangers we meet everyday. Some end up as friends. Some remain mere passer-bys. Well, we all know how great our friends are (even though they fail to give you the money that they owe you) and we have taken their existence for granted (as in a regular part of our lives). What interests me more are these passer-bys. Their life is probably completely different from yours; perhaps they have encountered hundreds of incidents and circumstances in their lives that would really surprise or amuse you; and yet we will never be able to experience anything; just because they would remain mere passer-bys in our lives.

I met Katherine on an elevator (I generally prefer not taking names; but I have presumed I wouldn’t be meeting her again). Our conversation would be limited from the 6th floor to the ground floor. Conversations between strangers are generally initiated because of an accidental ice-breaker. Katherine persistently pressed the button for the 6th floor failing to notice that she was ALREADY on the 6th floor. A burst of laughter and our short conversation began. In the 2-minute talk that followed, I learnt a bit about her crazy nature of changing majors ranging from theater to community health sciences. She had to go to the commons room while I had to catch a bus home. We smiled at each other and that was it. We never talked to each other again.

I met Chris in the Atlanta airport. Few minutes before I left to my friends’ place. Chris was waiting for his boyfriend to pick him up … he was going to Vegas. They would fly to Denver and drive to Vegas with another bunch of friends. Chris had just found a new job in one of the casinos where his boyfriend already works. He was brimming with joy at the thought of going there. I had to leave. I may never meet him again.

I had this random call from a random person. She had just decided to jumble up her own mobile number and see where the new number leads to. It led to me; on the day I was alone at home and finding it hard to pass time. She talked a lot of random stuff. To me, it was just another wrong number. But if I could talk over 2 hours on phone with my friends incessantly, I could talk at least for 30mins. with a wrong number. Moreover, she had this uncanny practice of bursting into regional songs on the phone. This went on for a while after which both of us unanimously decided that we better hang up. Today, I don’t even remember what that number was. I don’t even remember if I ever asked her what her name was. I don’t even know where she is or what she’s doing. I don’t think I’ll ever have such a conversation with her again.

I have had such short conversations - with people in the bus from Centre Avenue to 5th Avenue; on a flight from Dallas to Pittsburgh; on the train from Thiruvananthapuram to Bangalore; during the 90 minutes of a boring seminar; during the 30 minutes spent playing flip cup! It is abusrd to even think about whether a relationship was developing – sometimes it was never meant to be!

To me, one of the favorite things in life is to know people. Every person has such fantastic stories to reveal. Every person is a walking story book. I feel privileged that I get to read new stories every single day. I think I can learn so much about myself talking to these so-called ‘strangers’. In essentiality, I eventually become less of a stranger to myself!

01 September 2009

7th std. gets a little frightening. The entire class stood in a line. It would be a random blast. Anybody could be picked. It could be him. Or the one next to him. It could be her. Maybe the girl next to me. Heck! It could be me too. It was that time of the year in school where you could not pick the person with whom you want to sit next to ... everything would be pre-determined ... by the class teacher of course.

7th std. gets unconventional. With the class strength being small, and the number of girls being relatively higher, it would naturally be one guy sitting in between two girls. Up till 6th standard, I would have probably puked at this idea... somehow in 7th std., something had changed. I had stopped looking at the opposite sex as something slimy and sluggish and one that needs to be gotten rid off with immediate effect. Something had changed within me.

7th std. gets flakier. Most of the girls knew where their seating was. The guys had to be picked. Maybe I'd be put next to 'A' - she was a lethal combination of beauty and brains. Maybe I'd be put next to 'M' ... heavens! I'd be ridiculed for the rest of my life if I was put next to 'M'. And as I tried to determine what games fate tried to play with me, my name was called. A ringing sound ... loud and clear ... "Hey you! Get your bag and go sit between P and G". The rest was history...

7th std. gets me too flipped out. Amidst all my calculations... I had totally forgotten about 'P'. She was the heart throb of the class! I was way out of the league to sit next to her ... and yet here I am ... dragging by bag full o' books and walking towards her. It took some courage actually to sit down ... what if she screams ... what if she gets up and shouts that she doesn't want to be seated next to me ... what if she cries ... she did nothing of that sort ... except smile and said a 'Hi'. 'G' whom I hadn't really talked to before... at least not so much... would later go on to be absolute fun and I cherish the one year sitting next to her too. At the same time, I'm sure I made quite a few enemies sitting next to 'P'.

7th std. gets more ludicrous. That's when the shorts have gotten the shortest... reaching their threshold. Dads usually say... "Listen, its just one more year... then you'll have pants from 8th... manage this year son". 'Manage' they say... but sitting in between two girls, one of them who's drop dead gorgeous, how would it feel to hang around with tiny little shorts ... long enough not to be called an underwear ... and short enough to expose your bare hairy legs with bruises (that you got from playing football with the high school team) ?

7th std. still gets whackier. What's with the broken voice? And hair below the nose? And on other unmentionable places? I roughly estimated that I must have about hundred hair follicles in my mustache region... so if I can pluck off three hairs a day ... in about three months ... I should be mustache-free! "Just shave it off" you say... but its taboo-ish at home!

7th std. gets barmier. Its the love season. Crushes with class-mates and junior girls are more than common. The species whom until then we classified along with the nematodes and insecta, now appear extremely cute (especially when they laugh... boy! They can surely floor you with their smile).

Its a weird phase of life after all... a mix of puberty and liberty...

7th std. eventually gets memorable. In all of our lives...