Save Early and Often – Prepping the Phytos

Save Early and Often – Prepping the Phytos

By Eilea Knotts

Have you ever heard the saying, “save early and often”? If you haven’t…the statement is referring to the concept that your computer work can be lost at any second. Your hardware could have a catastrophic event (e.g. hard drive failure, power supply failure) and there goes all your time and energy. This is a concept I attempt to hammer into my own students. Even with this, I still get students who come to me complaining that they didn’t save their work and have lost their lab report, code, figures, etc due to computer failures. I remind them that they should have been saving their work the whole time and send them to do it all over again. Harsh…but a necessary lesson to learn

So…you would think with all of these examples I would also be using this concept in preparing for my international collaboration. Well, I sort of did, but not as much as I should have.  

The initial plan was to send my phytoplankton overnight to Canada months in advance to see if they would survive the travel and then to later resend them right before I went away for my collaboration. My phytoplankton…microscopic algae…are resilient and hardy so I didn’t believe they would have a hard time traveling. However, we had to test it. I sent them and all went well. Hooray, we have confirmation my phytos can make the trip. But instead of throwing them out, my collaborator insisted we keep them alive and growing until I got there. Hey, it was less work for me. I said thank you and I went on doing my own research.

We now reach the part of the story where I am a 10 days out from heading to Canada and 5 days away from leaving my school. I wanted to make sure everything was still going well and that we were on track for my arrival…my “save early and often mentality.” I sent an email on a Friday confirming that I had my supplies, asking if there was anything else I needed to bring, and as a last thought, asked how my phytoplankton were doing. Tuesday morning I get an email informing me that the phytoplankton did not survive the last transfer to their new media and that I should send another batch of my phytos up. I had planned to leave the following day and I needed to send the phytoplankton then and there if I were to get the samples up to Canada before the weekend. These samples are live cells that cannot sit in a cargo hold. I rushed around scrambling to get another package out of Columbia, South Carolina up to Canada that day. Oh, don’t worry. I succeeded but it was definitely stressful!

The moral of the story? Save early and often. I should have been talking to my collaborator about how my phytoplankton were doing several weeks in advance and regularly checking in on them. This is a lesson that we can all be reminded of every once in a while. Preparing for international collaborations require more forethought. Never forget that!

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