Amp 11

Author: Skylar Bayer

As I am typing away, procrastinating on my talk by working on this anecdotal story, I feel only a tinge of the guilt I once felt as a first year in graduate school.  Somehow all this work will get done. It will get done late at night and probably, say, while rocking out to some Madonna, Rhianna or other such pop nonsense (with the occasional whimsical Bob Dylan album in there) at the amp level of 11 (see: Spinaltap). And let’s say, this has been done many, many a time by many, many a graduate student since speakers could go up to 11.

In my brief history as a scientist, though, this habit probably began during my first research experience in a lab trailer in the middle of the tundra. I spent many an hour during the evening (possibly after some midnight sun libations in the trailer next door, possibly not) on my mass spectrometer, singing horribly off key to Lauryn Hill’s Doo Wop (That Thing) while my samples turned magenta. I’d prance around in my muskox sweatshirt, grey Carhartts and yellow crocks, absolutely mortified the second I heard that trailer door squeak open.

One particular evening I took it upon myself to sweep one of our labs clean while massaging the data and wiping the counters of dirt and acid. Madonna’s Hung Up was playing in the background and I just couldn’t help but turn it up and pick up my broomstick and dance around like Robin Williams as Mrs. Doubtfire. I was convinced that the trailer was absolutely deserted until… another intern, Fio, we’ll call him, poked his head out of his closet-sized “office” (more like holding space) with a quizzical look on his face. I smiled awkwardly, turned down the music and started sweeping as if I was just doing the required ritual pre-sweeping dance.

This scene has more or less been played out again and again, except at different hours of the night and usually starring confused janitors giving me disapproving looks or security guards wondering if I should be doing something better on a Friday night. One time I walked into my lab a janitor was using our lab as a phone booth for her exceptionally loud foreign language phone conversation. Oddly enough, my entrance into the lab didn’t really change her decision to keep using the room as a phone booth. But maybe not so odd since I’m just a lowly graduate student…

This habit of working late at night in a lab space has led to a few situations including:

A)   Working all night and greeting my labmates in the morning with exceptionally red eyes (useless for the following day’s meetings).

B)   Staying at the lab just a few hours before realizing that I am getting nothing done and say “screw it” and just head home to wake up at 4 or 5 AM to get any work done.

C)   Same as B except it involves going out to join the crew at the bar only to realize that everyone is about to go home shortly anyway.

D)   Sleeping in my office under the presumption that somehow this will let me get more work done than if I’d just gone home and worked late and gotten up early in my own bed.

I am not proud that I have slept in my office, but of all the preceding scenarios, this seems to be the most effective of at least making me feel like I’ve accomplished something with my music blaring, late night snacking and avoiding all social contact for 12 hours. It also makes me look hardcore (an amp 11)… or an idiot, depending on your point of view.

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