That’s why I try not to go into lab on a Sunday.

It never turns out well.

I went in to SLU yesterday to check on my students plates, and, if everything looked as well as I expected, to take the first timepoint.

Stop right there and review that last sentence. Do you see what my mistake was? You might say it was "going in to SLU yesterday". You might say "doing the timepoints for the students". I wouldn't necessarily disagree. But the real mistake was that I expected everything to look good.

Things did not look good. They looked quite bad. One after the other I found contamination, plates that weren't labeled, plates that didn't appear to have anything in them… so after I ended up throwing out ¾ of the plates, I began to wonder: are they all really not getting it? Or… is it me? I mean, I knew some of them were having difficulty, but I though some were OK.  But the evidence was to the contrary. As I see it, there are three possibilities:

1. I am a bad teacher.
2. My students are not coming to class prepared.
3. The experiment is flawed.

    Let's work through each possibility:

    1. I am a bad teacher. According to my TA I'm going over and above what has been done in previous semesters. I give my students detailed protocols; I describe visually the protocol; and I demonstrate for them how to do it. I am covering all different learning styles. Plus, I've gotten positive reviews from other classes I've taught and student I've mentored. That still doesn't necessarily rule out this possibility, but it does seem to indicate that the shortages aren't on my end.

    2. My students are not coming to class prepared. Well, that is true. I am racking my brain to come up with a way to combat this particular problem, and would welcome any suggestions. However, even so, once they get to class they have everything they need to complete the experiment, so while this fact is annoying it shouldn't necessarily result in such a catastrophe of having to discard 75% of the work.

    3. The experiment is flawed. I know it isn't inherently flawed because it has been done before, successfully. However, I haven't done it recently, and I haven't done it at SLU, so perhaps this possibility should be explored further. I decided to take some cells from my TA and set up the experiment myself- just to make sure that it could be done. My TA kept protesting that she would do it, but you know the saying… if you want it done right, do it yourself.

    I would have preferred to start from scratch, but I didn't have time to make media. So I took her media and filtered it, and went to get all the dishes and supplies I needed. It was actually a useful learning experience for me, since I had never personally used the TC facilities at SLU, having imported all my cells from MRU where I do my research, and handing them directly to the TA who has been maintaining them since. So I'm gathering all the supplies, and that is when I noticed that the 12 well plates that the class had used for the growth curves were collagen coated. F*** f*** f*** f*** f***. I don't know for sure, having never actually directly compared, but I have a feeling that this is perhaps some of the reason the cells are not growing well and do not look right. I am extremely angry about this for several reasons.

    >It will, no matter what, screw up the results. Hopefully not badly enough that my class won't still learn something.
    >My TA didn't notice, when I asked her to find 12 well TC plates, that the box was labeled, in big letters, "COLLAGEN". Or, perhaps, she didn't realize it was important.
    >I didn't notice it during class, when everyone was plating their cells.
    >I'm not sure if I should be mad at myself- for not specifically checking to make sure these were the correct plates. But really, who would think that there would be collagen coated plates, and not plain old TC plates, in the supply closet? SLU has not much money, and I would never expect them to have the more expensive plates just laying around up for grabs.
      At the end of the day, it is nobody's fault but my own. I have relied too heavily on my TA, and on protocols supplied to me by past-professors of the course. It is good that I am in there, getting my hands dirty, so to speak. I am turning over a new leaf. It took a Sunday visit to the lab for me to realize just how bad things were, but the semester is still young.


      ME said...

      Aren't lab course frustrating sometimes. I always had the TAs run the experiments in parallel (and ideal 1 week ahead) so that when someone screwed up we would have extra DNA, cells, lysates, etc.). I love when people don't check that they put cells in the well and then two days later are surprised there are no cells. I also didn't expect students (who do TC research) to not realize that laminar flow hoods need to be on to work! =)

      I just always try to keep backup (from the TA) and hopefully one groups experiment works so they can share data. IS*(^*^%$%YTO happens in lab.

      Tina said...

      Thanks, ME. I have been thinking about running experiments ahead of time to work out the kinks, I think I will start that. Your comment made me feel not so alone in the struggle...

      Stacey said...

      seems like the student's technique would be to blame for the contaminated samples, but if the collagen is to blame for the lack of cell growth, perhaps it's an opportunity for them to figure out why.

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