The stereotype of the academic scientist is often an Einstein-like figure. A solitary genius with frizzy white hair wrestling with the secrets of the universe. Reality is a bit different. Most of the actual research in universities is done by PhD students and postdocs (people who have just done PhDs), and also by final year undergraduate students. And these students and postdocs often work in groups or teams.
For an entertaining and light-hearted (at least I enjoyed it) introduction to life in a cell biology research lab see the You Tube clip. Some of the jokes in the video are kind-of in-jokes, for example, you need to know that scientists are judged on how many papers they publish, and what journals they are published in. In the field of cell biology, the journal Cell is very prestigious and so a Cell paper is very desirable, it can really help a PhD student’s career.
You also need to know that projects are often passed down from one student to the next generation – who if they are unlucky end up trying to work out what the other student was doing based on scruffy notes/incomplete notes/notes in a different language.
But science often needs teamwork, a PhD student working with me is modelling data produced by an experimental biology postdoc at King’s College. They’re working together and they have to, if they don’t none of us will get a Cell paper.