Collective noun for a group of electrophysiologists?

My husband and I have had an ongoing discussion for quite a while now about what the collective noun for a group of electrophysiologists should be. This discussion came up again a few nights ago, where he firmly believes that the collective noun should be a ‘superstition‘. I, on the other hand, think it should be a ‘paranoid‘, or maybe an ‘expletive‘.

I started my first career-related job recently. I’m now working as a manual (conventional) patch clamp electrophysiologist for a contract research organisation. It’s definitely a completely different world to academia and I’m having to pick up a lot of new concepts very quickly, but happily, I’m enjoying myself very much (despite having to write my thesis in the evenings and weekends).

Although it’s a whole new world for me, there’s definitely something oddly familiar about the environment and the people I work with.

I find myself smiling whenever I think back to my uni days, when I would sit at my patch clamp rig and fantasise about electrophysiology equipment that wasn’t held together with dog-eared autoclave tape or covered in aluminium foil that was torn in several places. I also used to dream about what it would be like to have a comfortable chair, a responsive computer and enough workspace to accommodate a keyboard, a mouse, an open lab book and a monitor (or 2 – if I was doing MEA experiments). On my first day at work it came as a little bit of a surprise to find that some things really don’t change.

I operate two patch clamp rigs now (not at the same time!) and although they are pretty much identical, they each have their own foibles. Whether it’s the optics of the microscope, or the amount of patience (and swearing) it requires to get the perfusion flow rate just right, or the extra stability a few centimetres of tape gives to the manipulation of the patch electrode, or the aluminium foil that was once wrapped around a cable but is now half hanging off and catches on the stage of the microscope. There are even uncomfortable chairs and very limited workspace! But thankfully I still get to work beside a window (yay daylight!) and at least the computers (and IT support) are much better now.

I sometimes used to think that maybe I’m a little bit too particular when it comes to conducting electrophysiological experiments. I have a certain way of doing things, often in a certain order, and I like my work environment to be organised and tidy. I also like to have particular (and in my opinion, essential) bits of equipment to hand in case I need it (ie., plastic syringes, forceps, super glue, copper wire, silver wire, tubing, foil, soldering iron, hot air gun, pipette glass, heat-shrink, blu tac, tape, lab roll, pipette tips etc etc). Having now found myself surrounded by highly skilled and very experienced electrophysiologists, I’ve discovered that maybe I’m not so weird after all. I may have a certain way of doing things, but I’m definitely not the only one. It also turns out that I’m not the only one who gets paranoid about flushing the perfusion tubing sufficiently, or the particular sequence of events that need to be followed in order to successfully patch a cell, or having too many people in the room when you’re trying to do an experiment.

There’s even a hint of slightly irrational superstition. One of my colleagues has said that their two best days, in terms of the success rate of patching a certain cell line, was when they were listening to music by a certain band. As we’re currently having our patience tested by this really troublesome cell line, it is now a firmly held belief that our chances of getting data will be massively improved by listening to this particular band. The only caveat being that my colleague was the only person in the lab at the time, so it may not work if the rest of us are there to watch/try it out. We all solemnly agreed that the conditions should be kept the same as last time, otherwise it will never work.

So this has provided my husband with more proof that a group of electrophysiologists should be called a ‘superstition‘, which is a good call, but I personally think the collective noun should still be a ‘paranoid‘ or an ‘expletive‘. Funnily enough though, I get really anxious when my husband puts new shoes on the table. I know it’s completely irrational, but I just can’t help myself. Maybe electrophysiology appeals to a certain kind of person.

attempted murder of crows

My journey in to Neuroscience

I didn’t grow up believing that I would one day be conducting scientific research, let alone regarding myself as a neuroscientist. From a fairly early age I wanted to be a vet and continued to think that this was the path for me right up until my second year of Sixth Form College. However, the stark realisation that I would never be able to achieve the straight A’s at A-level soon had me considering other options.

At first I didn’t really know what to do. I just knew that I wanted to do some sort of biological science degree because biology was one of my favourite subjects. Having amassed a collection of university prospectuses, I read through the list of subjects taught as part of one of the veterinary degree programs and I came across a particular word again and again: Pharmacology. My curiosity piqued, I decided to look it up and discovered that a lot of universities offered it as a degree in its own right.


Pharmacology is the study of drugs, their mechanisms of action and how they can be used therapeutically

For those of you who may not know what Pharmacology is, it’s basically the study of drugs, their properties, their mechanisms of action and how they can be used therapeutically. As soon as I discovered what Pharmacology was all about I knew that I just had to do it.

It wasn’t until my second year at university (studying Pharmacology) that I first started to fall in love with Neuroscience. The brain was a complete mystery to me up until this point. At school and college I had learnt the basic structure of a neuron and the basic principles of action potentials (neuronal signaling), but the brain was left well and truly alone.

One of my favourite aspects of Neuroscience is neuroanatomy. The brain isn’t a homogenous blob with no defining features. In fact it contains many distinct regions and intricate structures – all of which have specific functions (some multiple). I was incredibly lucky in the fact that my university had a prestigious medical school and this meant that we had access to fixed (preserved) human brains. So once a week, as part of our formal neuroantomy training, we were permitted to very carefully handle these brains. The novelty never wore off and I always felt immensely privileged to hold such a fascinating organ in my hands.

The brain contains many intricate and beautiful structures.

The brain contains many intricate and beautiful structures.

Once I completed my Pharmacology degree I decided to do a Master’s degree in Toxicology, the reason being that I wanted to try and specialise in an area that would lead on to a more specific career path. The Master’s degree culminated in a 3 month full-time research project over the summer and I chose to do something that really interested me; a Neuroscience research project. I learnt a lot during that project; in particular how to work in a proper research lab – and I absolutely loved it.

After finishing my Toxicology degree I continued for a time on the work I did as part of my Master’s research project, which gave me the experience and confidence in the lab required to do a PhD in Neuropharmacology.

I chose to do a PhD for a number of reasons. Firstly, I was bitten by the bug of laboratory-based research. It played to my strengths of manual dexterity, patience and meticulous attention to detail. Secondly, having a PhD is like a stamp of approval for a scientist. By the end of it all I will have proved that I am an independent thinker and worker, with the ability to present my research in a variety of different ways. Thirdly, I hope the economic climate will have improved somewhat in the ~5 years that I’ve hidden away in academia since the beginning of the recession. There are probably more reasons, but the three I’ve already mentioned are the primary ones.

Actually, I suppose there is one more reason… I absolutely love Neuroscience and Pharmacology. More on that later.