This is what I do for Beyond the Bench, the blog on our Current Protocols website. As I delve into topics for each blog article, I find myself reaching out to every friend and coworker I know who either works or has worked in a lab, asking about everything from what rights rats have to what a blastema is. Yes, this is research, but it is also a clear indication—even merely to myself—of how little I know about science--or any topic, really. (Because even after I write each article, I would have to reread it in order to recall any of the information I wrote in it. How about that for short-term memory?!)
Meanwhile, my job seems to be ever-sliding toward some sort of number-crunching mania. Unfortunately, neither high school nor college prepared me even slightly in the way of Excel manipulation, so as I struggle along, my lifelines consist of:
- a few in-house numerical whizzes whom I try never to bother because a) they are probably more swamped with number-related projects than I am, and b) because, quite honestly, I am ashamed to admit my own incompetency
- one hometown friend who is a computer genius, but whom I feel horribly guilty for taking such advantage of, since I feel virtually useless in return
- one brilliant cousin who is also an Excel guru but of whose generosity I also feel guilty of abusing, even if he is family
- Google, which—in spite of its awesome power—does not always have the answer (thus leading me to grovel at the feet of one of my formerly mentioned options)
This is not to say I am completely useless. On a rare occasion, someone will have an essay they need to have looked over or a resume proofread. More often than not, however, the people who ask me to do these things are not the same people I ask for help--thus, leaving me feeling just as guilty and indebted as ever. (Because as much as I would like to believe in karma, I simply cannot help feeling that I owe people favors who do me favors. Even if I don't necessarily want people feeling that they owe me when I can help them with something like an essay. It's hypocritical, I know.)
The other day, however, I did have the good fortune of finally giving back to someone who had helped me. The interaction started with my usual neediness: I contacted a friend online to find out how exactly a fume hood works in a laboratory. (I'm writing about laboratory efficiency for my next CP blog article, but since I don't work in a laboratory, I figured it would be easiest to ask someone who does. This particular friend, R___, works in a research lab at Harvard.)
A little while later, after he had finished answering my questions, R___ returned to ask me, "What's a transitive verb?" At first, I was so surprised to see the question, I nearly didn't give a proper answer. Then, I was so eager to answer, I almost gave too much information. Finally! Someone was asking me a question I could help them with! I quickly supplied a definition, an example, and a counterexample in quick succession. And what was even more exciting? He actually seemed interested! A scientist was interested in the definition of a transitive verb! Wonders will never cease.
Meanwhile, already at 9 a.m. my day was complete: I had returned a favor and proven myself not only useful, but also knowledgeable. I might not have a Ph.D. in physics, and I may not (yet?) know how to manipulte the WOMBAT bibliometric template in Excel, but hey, I can define a transitive verb, and I can define it well!