Cell Culture Derailing Your Vacation Plans?

Dear Dora: Cell Culture Derailing Your Vacation Plans?Dear Dora,

I maintain a line of particularly finicky cells as an integral part of my project. They need some kind of maintenance every 2-3 days, which isn’t a big deal other than the fact that finding vacation time is nearly impossible. I’m not sure I trust them to a lab mate and if I were to bleach them and go back to a frozen stock after the vacation, it would be about three weeks before I could start doing experiments again, which my boss makes me feel guilty about every time I bring it up. Any thoughts on how to get away?

Erin, graduate student

Dear Erin,

Welcome to the club ;)  I worked with rat liver cells in graduate school and I had to feed them every 2 days. In other words, I could not even take a weekend off.

If you want to trust them to another student, you need to implement appropriate controls, so you’ll be able to tell whether your cells are still OK when you come back. (e.g. microscopy or a viability test). Make sure to return the favor!

Taking an extended vacation can be a negotiation exercise with your boss, regardless of your field. Many universities have guidelines regarding the amount of vacation graduate students are entitled to. If your boss tries to make you feel guilty, remember that it is important for your mental and physical health to take a little break once in a while. On the long run, it will be to everyone’s benefit if you come back focused and rested.


Dora Farkas, Ph.D. is the author “The Smart Way to Your Ph.D.:200 Secrets from 100 Graduates,” and the founder of PhDNet, an online community for graduate students and PhDs. You will find links to her book, monthly newsletters, and discussion board on her site. Send your questions to [email protected] and keep an eye out for them in an upcoming issue!


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