Calendar

Melanie in Oman playing a geologist. Look out -- biologist with a rock hammer!

What do I do all day? I either work in the laboratory, growing microbes, or I sit in front of a computer (preferably at home) thinking about what my microbe experiments mean and writing the experiments up so other scientists can read them. During the day I don't work 100% on the topic at hand; it is important that I interact with people around me to make the science community function. The scientists and students in our department are constantly chatting about science and asking each other questions. It takes a lot of motivation to go back to the potentially boring task that is next on the list of things to do! Here you can see a day where I was mostly motivated and a day when I was less motivated, though I think even so there was an overall benefit to the community.

I also spend time at sea (or at other field sites like Yellowstone) and at conferences presenting the results of my work. Here is a typical day on an Alvin cruise, where the schedule is fairly regular because the submarine only dives during the day.

Lab day (relatively motivated)

0525
Catch bus to the Waterfront Activities Center. .
0600
Row for about an hour and a half, three to five days a week with club.
0830
Get to Oceanography and check email.
0900
In the lab. Take overnight culture tubes out of the incubator. Plan the day.
0920
Examine the fresh cultures under the microscope. [Some cultures are brand-new deep-sea microbes and some are old isolates that I am trying to grow in new ways. It is a very satisfying feeling to grow microbes, in the same way that it is satisfying to grow plants. I spend a lot of time looking at the cultures under the microscope to determine how well they have grown].
1000
Wash culture tubes. Adrienne, a graduate student, asks a question about chemical buffers and I talk to her as I wash dishes.
1100
Make growth media and go down the hall to use the pH meter. Talk to Karen, another graduate student, about her new bacteria from sea ice.
1130
Put the glassware and media in the autoclave to sterilize. Wander around the halls, looking for someone who would like to have lunch.
1215
Use the laminar flow hood in a neighboring lab to prepare culture tubes (with the clean glassware and fresh media).
1300
Take the tubes back to lab bench and find that the stoppers cannot be pushed into the tubes. Put the whole kit and kaboodle in the oven to soften the stoppers.
1320
Finish preparing tubes and begin to transfer cultures into them.
1430
Go to an astrobiology seminar entitled "Searching for habitable planets".
1630
Call Steve, my husband, and ask what we are doing for dinner. Finish transferring tubes and put them in the incubator.
1715
Walk home and stop at store on the way.

Lab day (less efficient)

0525
Catch the bus to the Waterfront Activities Center.
0545
Set up the Boston Whaler that I will drive as the rowing coach of the day. This duty is rotated.
0600
Boats are off the dock and I try to give everyone a good workout while making sure that nobody ends up in the water!
0845
Get to Oceanography and check email.
0900
Remove and check yesterday's culture tubes.
0945
Fax a big order to the University's Central Stores for ml syringes and other items.
1030
Jon, graduate student and labmate, comes in to the office to discuss new scientific paper. We disagree about the technique that was used and go to find a geology professor who has used the technique before, to settle the argument.
1115
Spend the 15 minutes before lunch seminar straightening up tiny things in lab.
1130
Go to Marine Geology and Geophysics lunch seminar "Microseismicity on the Endeavour Segment of the Juan de Fuca Ridge".
1230
Stand in lab, planning. Show Sheryl, lab technician, the phylogenetic trees that I have constructed from her data.
1315
Go back into lab to plan. Place an order with Sigma Chemical for chemical needed for experiments.
1400
Plan the next steps of an experiment with Susan, a college student, doing work in the lab.
1515
Talk about the paper, recent experiments, and general philosophy for about an hour with graduate advisor.
1615
Find organisms that need transferring and do that.
1800
Walk home.

Day of data analysis/writing

0525
Catch the bus to the Waterfront Activities Center.
0600
Row.
0800
Take the bus back home.
0830
Sit on the couch in front of the computer, look at notebooks, and attempt to write.
0900
Make cocoa. Enter some old data in a spreadsheet and plot it a number of different ways.
1000
Call the lab to see if anybody needs anything.
1015
Grab a clipboard and scribble outlines on scratch paper.
1045
Get up to get a snack and clean kitchen.
1130
Sit down again, try to turn the outline into prose.
1230
Get distracted by the cat.
1245
Write some more.
1400
Eat lunch.
1500
Go back to writing. Delete last few paragraphs.
1630
Make tea. Take a big piece of chocolate back to the couch. Writing improves.
1730
Turn on the Mariners' game on the radio.
1900
Order pizza and go back to writing.

Day at sea

Melanie in the lab on board the D/V Joides Resolution.

0000
Still awake from the night before. Working in lab, trying to finish inoculating the fresh sample into culture tubes. Periodically step away from the work to eat chocolate. The B-52s are in the CD player to help me stay awake.
0200
Crawl into bunk for a few hours sleep.
0530
Wake up to check science gear on the submersible ALVIN. The equipment that I am responsible for is in place and secure.
0630
Review notes from the previous night. Are they coherent? What samples can I expect from today's dive, and do I need to brief those who are diving?.
0730
Have a mug of hot water. Watch the launch of the submersible Alvin. Give last-minute instructions to those going in the sub.
0930
Wander into the mess (the dining room/living area) where a group of people are watching "Night of the Living Dead" for the third time. Watch the second half with them.
1030
Take a nap.
1400
Go to lab and check ongoing experiments.
1430
Science report from the sub is received on the ship. Knowing what kinds of samples to expect, I prepare my experiments.
1600
Go out on deck to watch the submersible recovery. As soon as the submarine is in its hangar, we take charge of any samples that were collected specifically for me, and for pieces of other samples (if there are leftovers) for culture work.
1700
Attend a science meeting, where those who were in the submarine tell the rest of us exactly what the samples are, where they were from, and what the local characteristics were (temperature etc.).
1800
Start working up the samples.
1830
Eat a quick dinner if I can get my samples in some sort of stable environment (like my portable oxygen-free glove bag).
1900
Work really really hard in lab!
2000
Periodically Dave the chemist and others bring more samples as new sample bottles are opened. Sometimes other scientists come to talk to me about the quality or location of the samples.
2200
Go for a walk around the ship to clear my head and look for a snack and something to drink.
2220
Back in the lab.
2300
Done with today's samples from the submersible, but there is another group of scientists sampling at night with water bottles. I'd like some of this water, but that means I have to stay up for a few more hours.

Melanie Holland

  • Faculty Research Associate,
  • Arizona State University

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