Recently, I managed to get nearly an entire day's worth of machine time in a lab. This is a nearly impossible feat during the semester for various reasons involving the lab schedule and my schedule, but the stars aligned and I had a day in the lab. I was only able to do this, despite having 2 classes that same day, because my postdoc was in the lab the entire time and kept things going when I had to run to a class.
I spent part of the morning in the lab, went to class (in another building), and was on my way back to the lab when I ran into a colleague. I couldn't spend much time talking to him because of my rush to get back to the lab so I could have some time there before my next class. When he realized why I was rushing around (and skipping lunch), he remarked that I was a 'control freak' and should let the postdoc do the work. [This colleague was likely not entirely serious, but I think he was at least 82% serious -- he reads this blog and can correct me on this later, and if I am more than 10% off in my estimation of his seriousness, I will buy him a triple espresso.]
As I continued on my way to the lab, I thought about this. Why was I rushing back to the lab? Why was I spending the day running back and forth among 3 different buildings? The postdoc would of course be fine without my being there -- he is more proficient in this lab than I am.
The answer was obvious to me. Maybe I am a control freak in some ways, but the reason I wanted to be there in the lab was because I love the analysis process: devising a strategy, getting some results, thinking about them, making new decisions, discovering extremely interesting things.. Also, I was so excited about some of the results that we were getting that I wanted to be there when they were obtained. I wanted to see the results as soon as I could, and not wait to get a summary of them later.
I should say that this project is one component -- but not the main component -- of the postdoc's research. He has other projects on which he takes the lead, so I was not stepping on his toes by being in the lab with him. He is a collaborator on this project out of interest, and will get some additional co-authored papers for contributing his time and insights.
As I walked from the lab to the classroom where I was teaching in the afternoon, I was elated about the most recent results and I thought about telling the students about the research I was doing that day. I like to integrate some of my research in my teaching, and I knew that some of the students in that class would be interested in the day's results. That day, when I got to the class, I decided that I would not convey the news of my exciting results at that particular time, as I sensed some day-before-the-exam anxiety and I felt that it would insensitive if I started rhapsodizing off-topic about my beautiful data. There will be other opportunities, as I don't expect the thrill of doing Science to wear off any time soon.
2 years ago