I said it. It didn’t mean to slip out, but it did. Well, I can’t cap the genie back in the bottle, can I? So here it is: “When I was at the NIH…”
When I was a young student, my Ph.D. mentor was fresh from her postdoctoral studies at that famous group of institutes, the National Institutes of Health–NIH. When she wanted to impress upon us how quickly research moved (compared to our snail-paced and marginal research), she would always begin with that statement: “When I was at the NIH…” Being respectful students, we would always groan and roll our eyes nod and agree. Yes, it must have been wonderful to be at the NIH. But I swore to myself that if I ever have my own lab, I would not go around ranting and raving like the Monty Python sketch with the four Yorkshiremen, “When I was at the NIH…”
Well guess what? It was a wonderful place for a postdoc! When my time came to look for a postdoctoral position, I was heavily influenced by the stories of all night protein purifications, massive P32 labeling experiments with no holds barred. It sounded like a dream place. After all, in Israel we often had to plan experiments weeks in advance because orders for reagents could easily take 3 weeks to arrive from the US.
So I lined up 5-6 interviews for positions at NIH. In one interview (now remember, this was back in 1997)–actually for the lab I ended up choosing– the mentor was talking to me and said: “aside from the common reagents like media, serum restriction enzymes, DNA purification kits, etc., each postdoc has about $1000/month for additional reagents”. I think my tongue was hanging out of my mouth when he said this, and he must have been somewhat taken aback, because he immediately spoke again to allay any concerns: “But if that isn’t enough, we can always find ways to purchase more”. I was sold.
So I did my postdoctoral research at NIH. And it was wonderful. All the reagents, equipment, collaborations. Microscopes galore. All you have to do is be motivated to succeed!
But now in my own lab it finally slipped out. A momentary lapse. A lazy-style experiment. And there it was: “When I was at the NIH…”
Well guess what? I have a former student now doing a postdoc at NIH. So when physicists debate the “particle or wave model”–I’m sure it goes in waves.