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Spent [work]


The last time around (Block 2), I found that the maximum number of crickets I could inject in a day was around 34, because I only have a 2-hour time window before it's time to go back to the first crickets, pop them out of the flasks, and freeze them. That first round of experiments started out pretty strong, but ended with a whimper, because for one of the 13 diet treatments I just couldn't muster up enough long-winged crickets with pink (active) flight muscle. I was eventually able to brute-force things by setting up 24 crickets on that diet, but it really drew out the experiment.

With the current cricket block (Block 3), I'm determined to knock out as many crickets as I can, as early as I can, so anytime there are enough long-winged crickets I'll set up 32 crickets total. On any given day, I set up crickets in boxes with one of the diets, and then return to that set of crickets five days later to do the glycine injections.

Both yesterday and today came close to that number.

I've gotten better at getting battle-ready. I make sure I have enough radiolabel ready to inject the day before, and I've set up a ring stand with tubing and a glass pipette so I can blow nitrogen at the radiolabel to evaporate out the carrier liquid, without having to spend an hour and change standing at the fume hood, holding everything by hand. I number all of my cute, 50-mL Erlenmeyer flasks and Pyrex screw-cap tubes ahead of time, and put all the tubes on dry ice in advance of the injections so they're good and cold when it comes time to freeze the crickets.

I've also figured out how to manage my time extremely efficiently during the injections, such that it usually takes me 2 minutes to inject and process each cricket, with a 5-minute window between sets of 8 crickets. That buys me enough time to hurriedly eat lunch before it's time to start freezing the crickets.

There isn't a good way to shorten the afternoon work, however. Once the crickets are frozen, it's time to sort through 24 aquaria of crickets, to pull out new adults and set them up on the diets. Then I thaw the newly frozen crickets while washing the flasks and stoppers so they're ready for the next day's injections, and dissect the thawed crickets to remove their ovaries and determine their flight muscle status. That way I know my diet sample sizes right away.

It's really the dissections that are the limiting factor. By the end of the day today, I was starting to get seriously stupid, and that part of my brain that was forever ruined by counting ant eggs under a dissecting scope starts to go off. Two days of that back-to-back is tough, as there is some aspect of the brain-effect that is cumulative. It's sort of equivalent to getting motion-sickness.

Oh, and then I get completely caught up on entering in all the data. I'd really like a window of time to do some preliminary analyses, just so I can reassure myself that this whole load of work isn't a huge waste of time and resources. It's hard, though, because the timing of things is somewhat reminiscent of the timing of ant foundress queen experiments - you just have to keep your head down and go, go, go, being as careful as possible and collecting as much data as possible, because this is your one real shot at things and you probably won't get a second chance.

At least I know to stay on top of data entry. The undergraduates have been appreciative of this lesson.

Back when I started this series of experiments, and was feeling pressure from my advisor to get the data collected and analyzed already (I can't speed up reactions that take two full days!!), he made an offhanded remark to the effect of, "Right now it's time to work really hard. You can relax and drink a beer later."

I keep thinking about that beer. I don't really know if I'll ever reach that stage in the time while I'm here. On the one hand, it's stressful and anxiety-inducing. OTOH, I greatly prefer this over idly twiddling my thumbs.



( 3 remarks — Remark )
Jun. 25th, 2015 02:55 am (UTC)
Man do you need more research assistants. That sounds like a stressful day or three.
Jun. 25th, 2015 02:26 pm (UTC)
We did finally hire on another undergraduate to help with cricket maintenance, but it can take a little while to figure out different peoples' competencies. Given how much work goes into these experiments, I'm reluctant to shell out the sample-processing steps unless I know I can trust the research assistant.
Jun. 26th, 2015 05:29 am (UTC)
I guess "insect radiotracer injection specialist" may be a bit of a niche, huh?
( 3 remarks — Remark )

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