Research is tough at times – much of the time in fact. Progress is slower than in many other jobs, and getting turned down is a frequent aspect of the work (funding applications and submissions to research journals are very rarely successful on the first attempt). There are also a lot of things you need to know. This can range from complex stuff like specific scientific techniques to something as simple as knowing who to contact to get a replacement lightbulb in the office. Also, difficult things happen in researchers’ personal lives too, and such things can make the research work much harder. The thing that makes this all manageable is that we work together as a team and help one another.
This might seem like a simple thing, and an obvious one. It would however be possible to let everyone figure out their difficulties on their own – it would take longer, but you can learn techniques by going on courses or reading about them in books and papers, and despite the fact that the King’s College London website can be a bit of a challenge, you’ll find the email address for the facilities helpdesk eventually. Doing it that way would be stupid, and we’d all probably be really grumpy too. So instead, we use each others’ experience and knowledge to complement one another and get things done quicker and better. Some examples:
Alan has spent a lot of time learning new and (sometimes) complicated statistical methods. We use statistics to demonstrate that the findings of our studies haven’t just occurred by chance, so stats are in many ways the crux of our work. We have generally used relatively simple statistical methods in our lab, but Alan’s willingness to explore new techniques (and do all the really hard reading and learning for the rest of us) means that we can explore our research data in ways we hadn’t thought possible, and robustly demonstrate findings that we felt were there but couldn’t quite show.
Caroline is the only doctor in the lab at the moment, so can help others with questions about things like the prognosis for a certain disease, or how particular medications work. The training for physiotherapists, nurses, physiologists and the like doesn’t cover these things in as much depth.
Ged has more experience in, and greater knowledge of, human physiology than any of the other lab members. It’s always surprising how detailed an explanation of the physiology underlying a particular process Ged can give! This is invaluable in allowing us to understand why things that we see in our studies might happen, and how different body systems interact. Ged’s knowledge of how the body controls breathing is particularly impressive (as that’s what his PhD concentrated on).
Manuel is a super-clever signal processing engineer, and so understands the data we acquire in a completely different way to any of the rest of us. He can explain why it might be that we get a strange wibbly line in the middle of a study – and more importantly can often get rid of it, which means we can use a recording that otherwise we would have had to ignore.
Dan has a lot of experience as an ICU nurse, caring for patients at the bedside as well as doing research. We do quite a lot of studies in intensive care and Dan’s insight into the minute-to-minute reality of an intensive care unit patient’s stay is hugely beneficial in allowing us to plan studies around patients’ needs, and make sure what we do is sensible and feasible.
Alongside all these skills, the silly little things that people pick up along the way are incredibly helpful too – how to change a setting to format your Word document correctly, what time to go to the canteen to avoid the big queue (and get the best chips), which screwdriver fits that bit of equipment the best, what forms you need to complete to submit your PhD thesis, what type of tape when securing the tubes we put up people’s noses to measure their diaphragm function… The list goes on.
Most important though is the fact that we’re all friends. If things are a bit tough, we offer words of encouragement, cups of tea, a help with something tricky, sympathy (and a bit of a whinge) if you’ve just had a grant or paper rejected, and perhaps even a quick trip to the pub (we are all over 18, and we do do it out of working hours). Knowing that someone will help you out if needed is absolutely priceless.