Where is all the equipment?
From childhood we all like to have new toys. At young age, kids make spectacular tantrums in shopping centres to get what they want, just to leave toys unattended a couple of weeks later. The acquisition of goods does trigger some addictive responses from which consumerism lives on. As a friend of mine once told me “every time I go to (a shop for DIY equipment) I get the feeling that I should buy things I have no idea what they are for”, and he is an engineer, so imagine how it is for the rest of us. The only thing that often stops you is the price! When it comes from your pocket you think twice if you really need it. But, this change when the money is not yours. The modernisation of Eastern European Institutions has been one of the goals of the EU, therefore a lot of support was provided to acquire new and modern aparaty (instruments). That has been a great thing and a rather unique opportunity for Polish universities and institutes to modernise. Since then, I have seen, sadly far too many times, that laboratories next to each other have bought the exact same aparat (BTW, check the spelling as apparat, with double p, means “the administrative system of a communist party, especially in a communist country”- google dictionary), and in many cases they have not even been unpacked as there is nobody trained in how to use them. Yet, these brand-new instruments are jealously guarded by laboratory dragons, moats filled with alligators and snakes, barbwire, brick and mortar, or lock, stock and 2 smoking barrels (one of my favourite films BTW).
Below are the answers when enquiring about different equipment within several universities/institutes in Poland (including our own);
“… there is (equipment) but nobody knows how to use it…”
“… we have it but you cannot use it…”
“… why do you want to know?...”
“… we cannot tell you…”
“… we lost the key to that room…” ***personal favourite***
“I think we have such somewhere… it has never been used” (4 years since purchased).
“… nobody knows where it is…”
“of course you can use it, if you pay and add me as a collaborator to all your papers…”
“it was moved to….”
“there is no such thing” but when presented with a photo with the non-existing equipment inside a box marked as UWAGA!!!, then the comment was “ohhhh, I forgot that it exists”.
At the very same time I keep hearing about the “Polish situation/condition” which they only way I can translate it is “we do not have what we need to do great research”. This makes me wonder, either those who say it know something I do not, highly possible, or I know something they do not. The equipment is there – pardon me!... let me rephrase that: the equipment exists, we must find it, remove the spiderwebs, nano- and macro-particles and get it to be used by anybody who is willing to!. Let’s train the next generation of scientists to be proficient in as many techniques, methods and equipment as we can. By some unclear reason to me, universities love to invest in infrastructure but not in people running such equipment. Moreover, the idea of core facilities does not run well in the Polish psyche… once I suggested that and I was quickly shock-silenced (and trust me that does not happen often) by being called “communist”.
One thing I do not understand is why the purchasing power is not used to bring the manufacturers to organise training sessions. When I bought one of our microscopes (EVOS M5000) I did that, they sent a guy from Germany to train people how to use it, they sent us a testing microscope for a few weeks so we could test it and ask questions – I would have never bought it otherwise, that simple!
With all this I’m not suggesting that anybody can just walk into any lab and use any expensive instrument, what I mean is that 1) we should all know what equipment is already available; 2) who shall we contact to be able to use such; 3) have someone trained to train others in how to use it. The running costs of equipment, repairs and service should also being considered - there is no free lunch!. Yet, scientific equipment gets “old” rather quickly, therefore equipment should be use 24/7.
Finally, I’m looking for a pressurised-vapor-extractor-of-bioactive-compounds-from-dessicated-triturated-Rubiaceae-encapsulated-embryos otherwise known as an expresso machine, anybody has seen any?
Adolek is a research scientist, and machine-illiterate, at the Dept of Biochem and Mol Biol, Medical University of Lublin.
Did you liked it?
Check Adolek's previous articles:
A LIFE IN SCIENCE