All Work and No Play

These days, I find myself providing strange and quirky examples to elucidate certain concepts in molecular biology to a classroom of 50 sleep-induced, hungover and relatively withdrawn young minds.

"Imagine you want to murder someone.. and you want to do it with a knife. Why a knife? Well, because knives are slow and painful and you can see the fear in your enemy's eyes as life slowly drains away.." (Here I paused, to give theatrics a chance) "..but then I go and hide all your knives away! You come into the room to face the person you want to kill. But suddenly you can't kill him - or her, not to sound sexist - because I took away the only weapon you ever had!" I paused, to let them try to figure it out a little by themselves before I give away the final conclusion of the elaborate example - "that's what EDTA does. It takes away the cation cofactors that the nuclease needs, in order to cleave the DNA. Get it? Get it?"

Sometimes, I believe, I'm being a little too hopeful while I teach. Not too different than the girl who walks in every single class, with her first few questions being "How long is this lab?" "Do we have to stay the whole while?" and "I have this party at my sorority after.." and that's when I phase out, like clockwork. Another one of my students, after listening to the whole example with rapt attention, raised his hand. He was now wide awake and was not doing a good job of hiding that sense of obvious alarm off his face.

"Can we not kill with guns?"
"No" said I, "Haven't you watched Dark Knight?"
"What? Why?" he persisted with his line of enquiry.
"Because they aren't cool.. And you HAVEN'T watched The Dark Knight??!"
"Umm.. I just think you have a wacky sense of humor.."
I squinted, and changed the topic quickly.


I didn't disagree. Later it did dawn upon me, slowly, that it was a crazy example to give. Effective. But there was good chance I'll get requests to dress up as a psycho this Halloween. Well, I don't give much fuck though. I think I'm quite the go-with-the-flow kind of person in a classroom - oh, how I want to use the phrase 'devil may care' right now. I would rather clearly understand and easily explain a concept than waiting for it to get diluted in politically correct translations.

So what if I give them the first example that comes to my mind? It works for me. And them. I hope. Crap. Self doubt is a bitch!

The first class that I teach on Wednesday late in the evening consists largely of freshman students. For every question I ask them that's in reference to the technicality of the experimental design - "Why do we do this step?" or "What follows after this step?" - I get the seemingly omni-applicable phrase "to read the DNA!" to which I just shake my head.

You can't entirely blame them. They're always excited about it, which is pretty amazing for a 6 PM class.

But it's sad for my Thursday afternoon class, which consists mostly of senior students who have declared Biology as their major. They usually face the brunt of all my poor jokes, the standards of which has been brought way down by the previous class of freshmans. Like that other day when we were working with bunsen burners, I looked at everyone and said "Remove your latex gloves" and then I turn to the only bench occupied entirely by guys, and say in a didactic tone "You need to tie up all your hair." They stared at me for a few minutes. One of them even started running his hands through the hairdo, until I pointed out that it was merely a joke. I totally expected them to gang up on me after the lab.

Among other things, my students are always confused about what to call me. I have got like 10 names in my class - 'Deep', 'Dee', 'Mister Deep', 'Dee Cee', 'Mister D', 'DeeJay', 'Mr. Chatterzee' and 'Dean'. I'm pretty sure that last one works at Starbucks, and is the person responsible for taking orders and writing names on those damned cups.

The person who takes orders at the Starbucks on campus these days, got my name right for the first time in the history of my life, or that of Starbucks, or that of coffee. He accurately wrote 'Deep' instead of the usual 'Beep' and 'Deeb'. I was beaming at him as I waited for my hot chocolate. After a while, I hear a beautiful girl call out "One grande hot chocolate for Deer!"

Maybe I'm lucky not to have been called Rudolf the reindeer, considering how red I had gotten. That was when I decided that the guy who calls me Dean is getting all his extra-points deducted if he doesn't get it right by the end of this semester. I'm kidding.

The best part of teaching is the grading. Don't get me wrong, I hate it like everybody else. It's redundant, time consuming and boring and stupid. But it is still the 'best' because it makes you feel good about yourself. You read certain answers that are plain insults to the word 'ballpark' and you end up talking to yourself, "well, at least we weren't that fucked up".

In the quiz for enzyme kinetics, someone wrote that E apparently stands for 'Enzyme', S for 'Substraight' (because he's not gay and is just covertly letting us know) and P for 'Phosphorous'. Because you are an alchemist apparentlyAnother fun answer was the various names they got for the word plasmid - platoons, pyramids, plasmado and platanoids. Well, at least these guys won't find it hard to find a job after graduation. They'll always be needing people to name cyclones in South Asia. Right? In one class where we discussed the principles of osmosis and diffusion, most of the students answered "Well the egg wished to get some water inside", upon being asked 'Why does the water move inside the egg?'.

The best answer though, is the name one student have for an Erlenmeyer flask. She named it the 'Eisenhower beaker' which is so freakishly hilarious. Ping, a postdoc from my previous lab, used to share office space with me. She said she thought people were having sex in the usually empty office whenever she would hear muffled sounds of laughing and giggling from the other side, which was me while grading. What a strange correlation!

Grading fuels a kind of a false sense of power. Their lives depend on the mercy of my sense of appreciation of things as trivial as your experimental progress or the weather. Needless to say, my summer semester students are totally doomed!

3 comments:

  1. Haha! That was a lovely dose of humor, albeit pretty late at night

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  2. I appreciate it greatly!..

    Great post thanks for sharing with us...

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