There is no visible horizon in the waters beneath the Ross Ice Shelf. So electrical engineer Jim O’Sullivan built an artificial one for the pilot of the submersible remotely operated vehicle (ROV) that he and a team of scientists were testing there in 2008. The team didn’t lack for data: The ROV’s orientation, speed, and depth were numerically displayed on the pilot’s screen. But it is difficult to convert numbers into spatial awareness. The ROV was at risk of crashing into the delicate creatures, such as sea spiders, that it was supposed to be observing.
Fortunately, O’Sullivan had come across a similar problem in a different setting: aviation. As a pilot, he had an instrument rating, “which was useful for understanding how to navigate without being able to see,” he recalls. When flying blind, pilots use half a dozen different instruments to maintain their situational awareness, including an artificial horizon. O’Sullivan found open-source software that could convert the ROV’s telemetry data to display an artificial, underwater horizon. This example of engineering on (and under) “the Ice,”—as Antarctica is known—demonstrates the need for ingenuity and improvisation beyond anything training can provide. Continue reading
Hilde Janssens currently works as a lab manager in the laboratory of a junior principal investigator (PI) at the Centre for Genomic Regulation in Barcelona, Spain—except when she’s teaching other scientists how to manage their own laboratories. In 2009, Janssens participated in her first lab management course, offered by her institution through the Heidelberg, Germany-based training and coaching company hfp consulting. A year later, the company recruited her as a part-time instructor. Continue reading
Firing a member of your lab is difficult. Fortunately, it’s also rare. The first and only time cell biologist Samara Reck-Peterson had to do it, in her laboratory at Harvard University, she felt prepared. She had practiced the difficult conversation during a lab management course she’d taken in 2009, and she had a script ready. “Practicing is really the most important thing,” she says. Continue reading
When Kelly Andringa began to get calls from faculty anxious about their paperwork, she wondered whether she’d done her assignment right. As a 2-days-a-week intern on the conflict-of-interest review board at the University of Alabama, Birmingham (UAB), she had written a Web-based tutorial explaining to faculty how to properly fill out compliance forms. Her main job, however, was as a postdoc in environmental health at the same university; administration was new to her. But, as more calls came in, Andringa realized that the concerns of most of those faculty members were unwarranted: They had completed the forms correctly. “I was quite proud,” she recalls. “I felt good about communicating it well.”