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New Lab Manuals

New Lab Manuals Everything I needed to know about science I learned in Driver's Ed.By Wendy Chao ARTICLE EXTRASSPRING BOOKSStem Cells on ShelvesAn Awkward SymbiosisThe Death of Faith?High in the TreesBloody IsleThe Enchantment of EnhancementBooks about BodiesIn Brief Recombinant DNA: Genes and Genomes - A Short Course, By James D. Watson, A

Wendy Chao

New Lab Manuals

Everything I needed to know about science I learned in Driver's Ed.
By Wendy Chao


Recombinant DNA: Genes and Genomes - A Short Course, By James D. Watson, Amy A. Caudy, Richard M. Myers, and Jan A. Witkowski, 474 pp., W.H. Freeman & Co., $93.95
Molecular Biology and Genomics, By Cornel Mülhardt, translated By E.W. Beese, 272 pp., Academic Press, $44.95
Experimental Design for Biologists, By David J. Glass, 206 pp., Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory Press, $59.00

My most influential teacher may be my high school "driver's ed" instructor. Mr. Ashdown, a formidable man who doubled as the football coach, told his pupils something simple, yet more profound than parallel parking: "To be a...

Recombinant DNA: Genes and Genomes - A Short Course, By James D. Watson, Amy A. Caudy, Richard M. Myers, and Jan A. Witkowski, 474 pp., W.H. Freeman & Co., $93.95
Molecular Biology and Genomics, By Cornel Mülhardt, translated By E.W. Beese, 272 pp., Academic Press, $44.95
Experimental Design for Biologists, By David J. Glass, 206 pp., Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory Press, $59.00

My most influential teacher may be my high school "driver's ed" instructor. Mr. Ashdown, a formidable man who doubled as the football coach, told his pupils something simple, yet more profound than parallel parking: "To be a good driver, you have to learn to think like one."

With parking mastered, I've found this lesson applies appropriately to science. Transitioning from classroom to laboratory requires more than what's in textbooks; great scientists have a knack for reasoning beyond conventional wisdom. Andrew Fire and Craig Mello displayed this knack when they discovered RNAi - a fascinating, unexpected breakthrough that revolutionized biology. By chronicling this and other major developments of the last decade, Recombinant DNA - A Short Course goes beyond textbook teaching to present the intangibles in science. James Watson spearheads the 3rd edition; along with Amy A. Caudy, Richard M. Myers, and Jan A. Witkowski, they unfold science through narratives, and give a glimpse of the factors required for making extraordinary discoveries.

Of course, not all science is success. Frustrated researchers will find solace in Molecular Biology and Genomics by Cornel Mülhardt, a charming laboratory manual translated from its successful German predecessor. Mülhardt proclaims that research is "primarily a process of voodoo - sometimes everything works, but usually nothing works." The book reveals the laboratory secrets that are usually learned the hard way, like how not to let agarose boil over in the microwave. Besides protocols and buffer recipes, the book gives advice for setting realistic goals and eventually becoming an independent scientist, including these encouraging words: "The experiment will be successful, as long as you are strong enough to put up with six months of the deepest depression." I wish I had this book when I started graduate school.

Inspiration is nice, but as Will Rogers maintained, "You can't legislate intelligence and common sense into people." Nonetheless, from academia to industry, lab leaders are trying to teach the minions how to think like scientists. A course once taught at Regeneron Pharmaceuticals has made it to the printed page in Experimental Design for Biologists. Author David J. Glass, now at Novartis, uses biological examples as well as allegorical hypotheses (e.g., "the sky is red") to illustrate effective experimental design. Despite being excessively footnoted and with a smattering of typos, this tome brings much-needed attention to the unfortunate lack of training in experimental design.

As Mr. Ashdown's students can attest, actually getting behind the wheel is the best way to learn to drive, and the same can probably be said for lab work. But as Benjamin Franklin once offered, "Experience is the best teacher, but a fool will learn from no other."

Wendy Chao is a Ph.D. candidate at Harvard Medical School and a contributing editor of The Scientist.

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