Wednesday, December 15, 2004

So What’s So Bad About Group Meeting?

I realize it’s been a long time since my last entry, but that’s because I’ve been busy. I’ve been writing Christmas cards, and last weekend The Husband and I went to NYC to visit Leah Lar. I’ve also had to work on a paper left over from grad school. Yes, even though I graduated a year ago, I’m still working on The Paper That Won’t Die. We’re on the second round of revisions.

So far, I have mentioned group meeting two times on this blog. The first time, I said that providing beer was the only way The P.I. could get us to attend; the second time, group meeting showed up on The Doktah’s Daily Schedule in Hell. So my loyal readers – all five of you – may be wondering what was so bad about group meeting. Well, four of you may be wondering, because one of you is The Doktah, and The Doktah already knows.

Group meeting was a weekly, um, meeting, where one lab member would present some data and we would all discuss it and make suggestions about what the presenter could do next. It was an opportunity to get ideas and direction, and a means of practicing presentation skills. So in theory, group meeting was a great idea. But in practice, attending group meeting was like being slowly beaten to death with science.

The worst group meetings were the ones where the AFM people were presenting. AFM stands for “atomic force microscope,” which is an instrument based on pretty cool science, actually. An AFM uses a tiny cantilever and a laser to measure the forces that hold proteins together. These forces are on the nano-Newton scale, which are very very small, and it is quite an amazing feat to be able to measure them.

Nevertheless, the data generated by the AFM is mind-crushingly boring. There are endless histograms and Gaussian curves that all look exactly the same, and which are compared and analyzed statistically. So group meetings by the AFM people boiled down to a long series of seemingly identical graphs followed by 30-40 minutes of arguments over statistics. Bitter Guy and Smelly Lunch Guy would really get into the statistics. Meanwhile, The Doktah and I would pray for death.

I don’t mean to be too hard on the AFM people. I’m sure they hated the cell biology people’s presentations just as much as we hated theirs. The point is that that group meeting was awful for everyone. Perhaps the most memorable group meeting was Really Shy Guy’s first presentation. Really Shy Guy got much better at presenting over the three years that I knew him, but when he first started he needed work. His voice was even quieter than 7-UP’s, and he was terribly nervous about presenting. On top of this, for some reason group meeting that week was held in an old classroom with sub-par multimedia equipment. So we were trapped in a dark musty room with a presenter we couldn’t hear who was talking about slides we couldn’t see. Time ceased to pass.

At one point, somebody knocked over a beer. Or maybe someone fell asleep and dropped it. Either way, about seven of us simultaneously leapt from our seats and said, “I’ll get paper towels!” desperate for an excuse to leave the room. Jersey Girl and I both ended up in the same women’s room, and we took time to make sure we got plenty of paper towels. We dawdled a bit, washed our hands, chatted. But when we got back to the classroom, Really Shy Guy was still on the same slide!

So clearly, group meeting belongs on the daily schedule in hell. But there’s no beer at that one.

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