If you are very quiet, and patient enough to wait for the sun to set outside, you might be able to see some extraordinary wildlife in the lab. Peep through the bull’s eye in the door and watch nocturnal PhD students in the tissue culture room.
Two fume hoods form their natural habitat. During daytime, the PhD students can be found pipetting for hours standing quietly in front of the hoods. In the evening however, when it gets quiet in the institute, the PhD students are beginning to perk up.
If two female PhD students work next to each other, you might be able to witness the beginning of abstruse conversations interspersed with jarring fits of laughter accompanied by feet stomping. Despite numerous recorded attempts, researchers have not been able to decipher these conversations. The outcome, however, seems to be consistent: The intruder, usually a supervisor, leaves the tissue culture facility with a frown, bewildered, and often a little worried.
Very similar, the behaviour of a single PhD student in the tissue culture room at dusk. She, too, will be found engaged in a conversation. With herself. Note the lively facial expressions.
Another behaviour commonly seen in the single nocturnal PhD student is the switching of the radio station. Whilst her daylight equivalent listens peacefully to classical music, head slightly tilted during pipetting, the nocturnal PhD student will, almost despite herself, change the channel to a more pop music orientated channel. Initially, the PhD student will quietly sing along followed by gentle foot-tapping. Before long though the PhD student’s hips will start swaying and the singing will grow louder, until, finally, her whole body is twitching and jiggling. Pipetting remains uninterrupted though.
In this condition, intruders seemed to be welcome. “Oh how nice to see you, yeah, come on in. Maybe you want to join me and sing along to Katy Perry? Or maybe you go and save yourself. There is still time, you know. Just leave the building. Don’t turn around. Never come back.”