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Locked Out!

…when we last saw our noble researcher on Thanksgiving Day he was feeding his mice, eager to head home to his own feast with friends and family. But on his return to the lab Friday morning, something is amiss. His key isn’t working. Neither force nor cunning open the gates to the fortified laboratory. ‘My cells!’ the researcher cries, ‘they need me!’ A panic builds: without care his experiments won’t last the weekend. The mice will grow hungry and the cells will suffocate. Frantic, our researcher tries different entrances, to no avail. Perhaps another scientist might let him in, but what hope is there on a holiday weekend? He sends swift messengers to the building manager, on-call person, and even campus security but is rebuked by each: ‘we can’t do anything’ they say, ‘wait til Monday.’ Our researcher is furious. Don’t they understand!? I must get access! I must rescue my experiments!

                Suddenly, a cloaked stranger emerges from the mist. Her features are hidden; is she friend or foe? Desperation overcomes our researcher’s uncertainty: ‘please Madame, I need your help.’ She listens to his story and a far-off look crosses her features. ‘I heard a rumour of a spare key. But it was lost ages ago…’ Yet she agrees to help seek it out. And so the companions quest through strange and distant lands following whispers of the key’s whereabouts. Finally, they arrive at a dark dungeon. Inside, glittering underneath mounds of journal articles and old dissertations, they see a golden key. Our researcher rushes forward to grab it, but his path is obstructed by a guardian dragon. Undaunted, our hero attacks, once, twice, thrice, but is repelled by fire and fangs on each attempt. Stalemate! Our brave researcher is exhausted, but undaunted. His companion suggests a new tactic: diplomacy. He removes his protective lab coat and approaches the dragon. Calmly, he explains his urgent need for the key. These pleas soften the dragon’s heart and it offers to loan the key to the researcher. Our hero rushes back to the lab, in time to save his hungry mice and over-confluent cells. And so, another laboratory crisis is averted…for now.


Science, in any field, requires grit – the determination to do what you have to do. Experiments do not take weekends or holidays; they don’t stop when you are locked out of your lab. At these moments, grit requires me to swallow my independence and pride and seek help. No researcher is an island entire of itself. I must rely on collaboration with others and their aid, knowing that later I will repay them in kind. I am tremendously grateful to my fellow lab members for rescuing me and my experiments this weekend. Now, rather than an incubator full of dead cells, I am left with a simple story, albeit one that begs a little embellishment.

The views expressed in this content represent the perspective and opinions of the author and may or may not represent the position of Indiana University School of Medicine.

Stefan Tarnawsky

MS4 MD/PhD Student. Going into Internal Medicine; interested in Heme/Onc. Bread baker, bonsai artist, aspiring astronomer.