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Wilkommen to my blog - my name is Karin Purshouse, and I'm a doctor in the UK. If you're looking for ramblings on life as a junior doctor, my attempts to dual-moonlight as a scientist and balancing all that madness with a life, you've come to the right place. I'm currently a doctor/research trainee in oncology after spending a year doing research in the USA. All original content is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

Wednesday, 29 April 2015

#IAmAScientistBecause... or: A Junior Doctor's Perspective of Lab Research

Philly cherry blossom - ka-ching!
The #IAmAScientistBecause hashtag is featuring increasingly on my Twitter feed - it has even reached the giddy heights of a Nature editorial.  As a junior doctor masquerading as a scientist, I'm not sure I'm totally qualified to give much of a view on either doctor-ing or science-ing; but perhaps you're a medical student or junior doctor wondering if lab research is for you?  Here are some of my reflections of the ups and downs of trying to be competent at two fields that seem closely related whilst in practice being completely different:

- If you do ANY kind of lab-based research, no amount of lab coat wearing will stop you ruining half your clothes with bleach.
- Book the thumb physio, because pipetting has given me worse RSI than any amount of drug chart rewriting.
- You will feel stupid compared to your full-time science student colleagues most of the time.
- It would be great if you could clamp your hand over the perpetrator's mouth when you are introduced as 'Dr BlahBlahBlah' to his or her colleagues, because it gives a misleadingly optimistic representation of your abilities.  Because you're 'not that sort of doctor' in a lab.
- Somehow the ability to do even basic maths seems to go completely out of the window, which does not aid the feelings of stupidity.
- It prolongs your training by, well, flippin ages.  One of my great friends from med school will be a qualified GP in a year, whereas I won't even be a registrar (/resident) by then. Accept, and move on.
- Scientists will hate you a little for the fact you managed to get both medical and science degrees in 6 years, and you know as well as they do that doing a science degree in a year obviously does not equate knowledge-wise to a full science degree.
Food Tour '14-'15 contd. Probably
the best food I've eaten Stateside - grateful to
my former Philly local friend who took us
to the yummiest eateries.
- It is sadly neither feasible nor sensible to wear a sign saying 'I do know how to do my other job, I promise' when you make yet another mistake in the lab or take a whole day just to get the basics of an experiment down.
- Going to work in jeans rocks.
- It is very weird to go a whole day when the only thing you have achieved is a lot of reading or maybe changing the media on some cells and call that day a success.
- Nothing works.  Ok, perhaps things work 5% of the time.  In my lab, we call that the '7am on a Saturday morning' moment - the reason why we keep coming back for more. That moment is just priceless.
- Suddenly, stats become fun - Prism is AWESOME. Never have graphs and p-values been so exciting.
- It's pretty rocking to be able to just go for a coffee when it's all going horribly wrong and regroup.  If only we could do that during horribly stressful nights on call?  If only we had Bernard's Watch!
- If you have a fun lab (comme moi) it can almost seem wrong that you get to work with such a bunch of intelligent nutters and call it 'work'.
- Experiments become a bunch more exciting when you give them cool names.  We ran this awesome deep sequencing experiment which we lovingly called Crazy 8 (rather than 'that-experiment-where-we-have-eight-samples-and-we-don't-know-which-one-is-best').  And you know?  It was the wildest (to quote an American) experiment and it worked!
- When you're having one of those days when you don't want to talk to anyone, cells are OK with silence.
- Lab life facilitates musical growth for you and your lab buddies alike.
- You work to get the work done rather than to hours set by someone else.  Yeah, so that means sometimes working late or at weekends, but it also means you can have regular hobbies, take a weekend trip, or post your mum's birthday present, as long as you get your work done.  It's a bit like being treated like a grown up!
Tourists! Philly - home to (I think, as I realise
this is a big statement) my new favourite
art gallery.
- It's great to have complete ownership over your work - well, it sucks when it's going badly, but rules when things come together.
- You will feel a jammy bugger for the relative job security being a doctor provides - ultimately, if that publication doesn't pan out, or your research funding runs out, someone will always want to employ a doctor, somewhere.  Our full-time science colleagues do not enjoy such luxuries.
- And hence, have new respect for pure scientists once you get to see close up how tough it is as a career despite being populated by the smartest, most qualified people you will ever meet.  I mean, they don't dish out PhDs like sweeties.

But basically, if it's for you, you will think how much it rocks that on the one hand you get to work with people in a hospital with all the complexities of patient care (ohhh how I miss it), and on the other exercise a totally different part of your brain transferring all of that to lab research.  What's amazing is that that's a 'Thing'!  It's a job that actually exists!  Someone wants to employ me to be with patients AND do research!  And in my current case, it's a Thing that allows me to live abroad for a year and get paid to do so. Ridiculously lucky.
Colourful DC! And source of the most
incredible seafood market accidentally
discovered in a dodgy part of town ever.
And museums. Oh just great, basically. 

I have been busy-ing my face off in the lab and in life, as many a single cell clone needs to be screened and close friends start adventuring to pastures new.  Generally with the Spring nearly over (feels like it's only just begun!) I'm hoping some of the aches and pains hanging over from Winter start to ease.  If my science could follow suit, that'd be sweet!

#IAmAScientistBecause... well, who wants a quiet life anyway?







(Hence a few recent travel snaps. Shame I couldn't take my newly acquired paints!  Best present ever.  Thank you thank you thank you.)

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