Embarrassing tales from PhD to Postdoc

I don’t consider myself to be a particularly lucky or unlucky person. If truth be told, I believe that there is no such thing and that we make our own “luck”, by seeking out and making the most of the opportunities presented to us and the situations we find ourselves in. However, in the past few years I have found myself in situations that my close friends described as “only being able to happen to Lauren”, or “classic Lauren”. And unfortunately many of them have either been during an interview process or on my first day as the new postdoc. Here are a few choice examples.

On the day of the interview for my PhD student position, I had to travel from Edinburgh to London by train, so the interview panel put me last in the running order to allow me sufficient time to get there. So of course as was expected, the panel were running an hour late. This further elevated my stress levels as I had to get the last train to Edinburgh in order to be back at work the next morning. Now the interview itself went fairly well but it was what happened afterwards that was so delightful. A nice lady at reception called a taxi to take me to the station and asked if I wouldn’t mind sharing with someone, to which I said “of course”. Little did I know the person I was to share with was one of my soon-to-be PhD supervisors. This meant relaxing was not on the cards. Staying in professional interview mode had to be done. All fine. But when we arrived at the station all the trains were delayed, and because of this, when we eventually got on a train (of course it was the same one) we were crammed up against each other amidst a carriage full of rowdy Arsenal supporters. Then the heel snapped on one of my shoes and I lurched even closer to the face of my future supervisor whilst we were making small talk. Then my tights ripped on my laptop case. By this time I was nice and red-faced and massively worried about missing my train at Kings Cross, so I explained my need to rush off and then had to take my shoes off, jump off the train and run along the platform screeching “it was lovely to meet you!” as I went. But as if that wasn’t enough, they then witnessed me trip over my own jacket and crash to my knees just as I saw the last train to Edinburgh close its doors and depart. Needless to say I was convinced I’d be receiving an “unsuccessful” e-mail but alas – I was wrong! Got the PhD studentship and my lovely Dad came to pick me up in Newcastle and drove me all the way home to Edinburgh.

So I made it through to almost the end of my PhD with only minor embarrassments under my belt until I went to visit a lab in Dusseldorf where I had been offered a postdoc position. After lunch, the group P.I. was to take me over to the University hospital to meet the head of division, and he thought it would be nice if we CYCLED. Honestly, I love cycling and mountain biking, however I generally prefer to be dressed appropriately and I like to know that my bike is fully operational. P.I. gave me a bike belonging to someone who was off sick and off we went. It was all going fine until I tried to brake going down a steep hill. The brakes didn’t work. Fabulous. So I crashed into a hospital road sign at full speed, flipped over the handle bars and landed on some muddy grass. Oh also, I screamed a little bit. Of course I jumped up brightly and dusted myself off, trying to act casual about it all, but that didn’t cover the blood running down my shin or wrists. I maintained that I was of course completely fine though and we went in to visit the head of division. The meeting went fine and afterwards I popped to the ladies to calm myself. When I looked in the mirror, I realised that I had just been chatting to my two potential future bosses with mud smeared up my neck and cheek, mascara smeared down the other cheek, and grass in my hair. I am actually laughing out loud right now as I write this. And strangely, they still wanted to take me on as a postdoc.

And now we come to the embarrassing anecdote about my first day in my current job. It started with me calling my new supervisor “Dad” by mistake when we went for a coffee after I first arrived in the morning. I thought it was only school children who did that sort of thing, like when they call the teacher “Mum” by accident in front of the class? Apparently not. He gave me a bit of an odd look but no major harm done (I think). Then we went up to my new lab and I had to do all of the standard signing of HR and occupational health forms. I sat down and started to go through them all, signing my life away with my trusty pen which unbeknownst to me at the time, had burst and was leaking all over my hand. So I returned all my forms to the relevant people (which involved me walking around the institute quite a bit) and then went into the office to chat with the boss about ideas for my new project. He had to nip out for a bit to deal with something half-way through, so the PhD student came to rescue me and asked if I wanted to go for a cup of tea with everyone. As I turned round to leave the office, he burst out laughing and said “ooooooh nice moustache, and I really like your eyebrow too!”. Yes I had of course smeared ink all over my top lip, under my nose and across one eyebrow. Damn my constant face-touching. So I had been walking around the institute, my new department and been chatting to my supervisor with an inked-up face. Great. PhD student was very nice though and provided me with wet paper towels and a mirror to sort myself out. He and I are now very good friends, but he does like to bring up the ink moustache and eyebrow now and then.

I have laughed out loud at myself alot while writing this – maybe you have too? That was the plan anyway. I assure you though, at the time of these incidents I was certainly not laughing! I think that sometimes we as scientists can take ourselves quite seriously and it can be quite therapeutic to stop, breathe, laugh, and remember – it’s all going to be fine.

I’m hoping that even one person reads this and thinks “thank goodness it’s not just me these ridiculous things happen to!”. Maybe they will even fancy sharing their own embarrassing anecdote?


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