Incomprehensible

Thursday was a bewilderingly annoying day at work, courtesy of our MD/PhD student and our 4th year medical student on rotation.

Between the two of them, between their two undergraduate degrees and 7 cumulative years of medical school, they could not make and pH a buffer with instructions, in under 3 attempts.

First they came and asked me where the 1M TrisHCl was, I check for them and told them they needed to make more.
Then they needed instructions to make more, which I provided. Making a 1M solution should be trivial, but not everyone paid attention in Chem 101, so hey. You weight out the necessary salt, dissolve it in less than your total volume, pH the solution, then bring it up to the total volume.
Then they needed help working the pH meter – fair enough, our pH meter is pretty obnoxious. I go and show them exactly how to calibrate it and then we try to pH the buffer they made.

  • Problem 1 – They only made 10 mL of buffer. Seriously, why wouldn’t you just make 100 or 200 mL of buffer? It won’t go to waste. This is more a peeve against selfish laziness.
  • Problem 2 – They didn’t dissolve the salt. I kid you not, they handed me a 15mL conical tube with a lump of undissolved salt in the bottom.
  • Problem 3 – Prior to pHing, the buffer was already over the maximum volume. They had 11 mL of buffer, it looks like they put 10 mL of water in the tube and added the salt to that. This makes the solution 0.91M instead of the 1M they needed. I specifically told them how to avoid this when I gave them instructions, and they ignored me.

At this point, I step in, weigh the necessary salt for 100 mL of buffer, put it in a bottle with about 75 mL of water and a stir bar and tell them to pH it with this 1M sodium hydroxide [at this point I displayed the bottle] when the salt is dissolved, then don’t do anything else until I get back, because I have a delivery to pick up at the loading dock.

When I get back, they’re running water into the bottle… It turns out they tried to pH their buffer with the calibration buffers for the pH meter.

The pH calibration buffers are brightly colored.

I presume they got it right the third time around, but I had an experiment to start, so I don’t actually know they did it right. I do know that I will not use any of that buffer, I will make my own.

I’m not annoyed that I had to tell them how to make the buffer. I’m annoyed that I gave them step by step instructions and they still couldn’t do it right. And it isn’t an isolated incident. We go through the same thing with how to do Western blots, extract protein from tissue, and on and on and on, over and over again.
If you cannot handle some of the most basic laboratory techniques after two summer rotations in our lab, followed by being shown by the senior PhD student and the postdoc, not to mention myself, what are you doing getting a PhD?
The 4th year medical student I can at least understand, a month long rotation doing basic science research is a cake walk compared to clinical rotations, it’s almost a vacation. You can’t get anything done in a month, so there are no expectations. It’s just C.V. padding.
But if you can’t do the benchwork, even with multiple explanations of how the technique works and what to do, why are you torturing yourself?
Better question, why are you torturing the rest of us?


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