Welcome to grad school in chemistry! Most people envision it as an intellectually stimulating environment, in which everyone helps each other out to achieve common goals.
Unfortunately, many of you chemistry grad students are lazy bastards. You don’t give a damn about your research, are only in grad school to impress your friends and family, and will only do the bare minimum to avoid getting fired.
If that’s you, eventually you’ll come across a coworker who does give a damn, and might make your lazy ass look bad to your faculty research advisor. That’s a problem.
What to do? Get your worthless hide into work and do your job? Naw! Research sabotage is clearly in order.
Now, you might think that it’s easy to sabotage a coworker’s research project. Unfortunately, you’re also lazy (and more than likely glaringly incompetent), and you need a few pointers to avoid getting caught. That’s where this primer will come in handy.
My experiments were regularly sabotaged in grad school, and occasionally as a postdoc, but it was done in ways that were blindingly obvious, so I knew what was happening. I’m here to help you avoid the rookie mistakes of some of my disgruntled past “colleagues.”
Guideline number 1: Remember visual cues.
Sometimes I’d be mixing up a simple chemical solution, and I’d leave the room for a minute to do something else. I’d come back, and my 10-milliliter solution volume had amazingly increased by approximately 50%.
Well, did I just disprove the First Law of Thermodynamics? Did I make matter appear from nothing?
That’s definitely a Science article right there! Either that, or a “colleague” added something to my solution vial (I might not have noticed if it wasn’t a huge, 50 fucking percent increase in volume).
Here’s a tip: Don’t do that if you’re the only other person in the room. Your coworker will know what happened, and who did it, unless of course he/she is as lazy and inattentive as you.
Guideline number 2: Remember olfactory cues.
Once in grad school I retrieved one of my lipid solutions, dissolved in chloroform, from the freezer. I opened up the solution vial, and WHOOF, I got a strong stench reminiscent of feces.
What happened here? No, a coworker probably didn’t defecate in my lipid solution (although, knowing them, I’m hesitant to completely rule out the possibility).
What probably happened was that someone added a chemical to my lipid solution, to contaminate it and change the lipid concentration. I probably wouldn’t have known if my “colleague” had instead added more chloroform; he/she seems to have stupidly chosen something particularly noxious, like butanol (i.e., the feces smell).
Guideline number 3: Go for plausible deniability.
Maybe clear, open sabotage is too risky for you, or just isn’t your style. Fear not: there are other effective, yet discreet, ways to sabotage your coworkers.
For example, suppose a coworker wants you to share your research protocol, e.g., a step-by-step procedure for isolating a particular protein from a batch of bacterial cells. You can seem helpful, and sabotage your coworker at the same time, by deliberately leaving out a critical step from your protocol.
It might take a few weeks of experimenting before your coworker figures out that your protocol is incomplete. That’s a few weeks of him/her wasting time, spinning in place, while you get drunk every night with your friends, comforted by the thought that no research progress will be made on your watch.
Here’s a tip: Don’t make a big deal during the next research group meeting, to try to impress your advisor, that your coworker missed this critical step in the protocol. Your “colleague” will then suspect deliberate sabotage.
Just pretend that it was an inadvertent oversight. After all, as noted previously, many chemistry grad students are not just lazy; they’re also incompetent. By remaining discreet, it’ll be next to impossible to distinguish professional incompetence from your deliberate sabotage.
Guideline number 4: Unfortunately, you have to make some research progress.
You can only sabotage your coworkers for so long. Eventually, you have to make some kind of progress on your research project, or your advisor will know that you’re a lazy bastard, and you don’t want that.
Here’s the point at which you need to stop sabotaging your coworkers’ experiments. Choose a coworker who cares about his/her results, and let your coworker compile a bunch of high-quality data; next, gather it up, and claim to your advisor that the data is your very own.
You might think that your advisor would see through such a tactic. However, your advisor probably doesn’t care who originally acquired the data (and is probably only interested in churning out the next publication and/or research grant).
If your “colleague” complains, it’ll probably just sound like your coworker is a troublemaker, and most importantly, no professor wants to be known as leading a dishonest research group. You, 1; coworker, 0. Score!
Important note: this tactic won’t work if your advisor and the coworker in question are friends (but take heart; many “research professors” are assholes who probably don’t have any real friends). Make sure you pick a coworker who isn’t close to your advisor (it’s best if they loathe each other), and you’re golden.
By remembering sensory cues, remaining discreet, and making minimal research progress once in a while, even an incompetent, lazy bastard like you can sabotage your coworkers, earn a chemistry doctorate, and look smart to your friends and family. Who knew that being a total piece of shit could reap such dividends?