The summer notebook of a principal investigator

Hello there,

Is anyone out there, can you hear me, are you still there. Oh, good you are there, hello. I have to start with a Mea Culpa, for all those wondering where Tom was, its been 3 months why isn’t he writing a new post, has he forgotten about us, well no I didn’t and I am back now, so I must apologize for long absence. Work and life got hectic over the summer but I am now back, and ready to rectify the situation. Over the next 2 months, 10 new blogs will be coming from me and released every week, packed to the rafters with protocols, reagent lists, how to do stuff, and SOPs that will be going up online for everyone to access, lots of science so you can do what we can do, all in an open manner so its accessible to everyone. If I fail to do so, you can email me personally and tell me Tom, get your stuff in order, you promised. And I will do so, all to coincide in September with the launch in September of our new EDDU. More on that in coming weeks.

So, while I have you, what have I been up to. Well life never stops for a PI and here is just some of the things I was busy doing that have prevented me from sitting down and writing my next blog installment:

  • I was invited to do 6 different talks in different locales. Lot of fun meeting new people, discussing work, making connections but lot of travel, saw Cardiff, Boston, Dublin, Sarnia, Toronto, Montreal. All great cities. Travel is fun part of the job, but the worst part of the job is being away for long periods. Also any time I spend at Logan airport is the worst as you can take your departure time and add 3h and that’s when you will be leaving, but I am sure everyone has their favourite airport. I did have some fun in Boston though, and here I am sipping an old-fashioned outside on the deck of restaurant overlooking the waterfront, so relaxing after a long day of conferencing. I work 60-70h weeks so every once in a while I try to take a little time to sit back and relax.

  • I did get a new review published in Frontiers focused on Autism, link is here. Feel free to read it and to reach out to Gilles and Cecilia who were driving force behind it.
  • Three manuscripts I am on are now in different stages of review and have 3-4 more in process coming shortly, with one of which I am corresponding author, so lots of time spent putting the pieces together of all the work done over past 2-3 years. So over next few months, a number of new publications will be coming out, in open access manner highlighting our uses of stem cells for modelling diseases in a dish.
  • Grant applications: 10+. So many to count, some with other groups, and some with other labs. Lots of writing, writing, writing. It’s like fishing, we throw a hook out, and hope we snag one or two. One has come back successful, while six more came back in the negative from the Winter period, with reasons saying it was too transformative, while others saying its not transformative enough. Oh well, hopefully I can find that sweet spot of just transforming enough. One Friday afternoon, I even had three rejections, I do love when all bad news gets dumped on the end of week. But I do enjoy the writing and putting out new ideas, in July I already have four more applications lined up to go out, so fingers crossed, we will find out by Fall if its Bad news Friday again, or if I can crack open a cool bottle of Heineken to celebrate. Actually in fairness, success or fail, I still do the same.
  • Teaching time. Preparation and time spent enlightening young minds is my favorite thing, I do love talking and explaining science to students. Its a refreshing change, and many of their questions really get you thinking.
  • Adjusted to life one year older, turning 39 last week. I am not in midst of preparing for the big one, 4-0. People have been telling me what its like, so will have to prepare myself over the next 12 months as I roll from my thirties into my forties. Gulp.

But there was also lot of meetings and lot of other things PIs do. But there was some other fun things that kept me busy. For starters, seeing Liverpool win the champions league. I know, many of you are fans of other teams, and in Canada everyone loves those lovable dinosaurs from Toronto who can throw balls into baskets, sure I even watched NBA and I am not what you call a fan of high scores. Give me a solid 0-0 in football any day. But great stuff that Raptors won.

Anyways, the real exciting victory was my team winning champions league, which is liverpool FC for those who don’t know, all done with the most glorious of comebacks vs Barcelona in the semi finals, one of my top 10 happiest days. Making it even better was watching it with a Man United fan while staying in his place, priceless. Here they are lifting the cup. Best day ever.

And finally, I took a vacation, I know we are meant to work 24/7/365. But holidays were calling, I need some R and R, and I enjoyed a very relaxing time touring around Quebec and Ontario with family members for 2 weeks. If you haven’t already, I highly recommend trying wine tasting in Niagara on the Lake, great wines, great people and hearing the stories of the little wineries is so much fun. Next stop is West coast wineries, so hopefully get to Napa and Okanagan in coming years. If you don’t know, I love wine. I started 10 years ago and has been a love story that has blossomed ever since. For interest, my new fave winery is Big Head winery. It represents my story as someone with a big head relative to their body, though with age my body is catching up.

Ok, I have rambled enough, on Monday my next posting is going out and the next 10 posts will represent the side of serious work Tom focused on science, stem cells and SOPs over the next 2 months. So again, sorry for disappearing, hope you didn’t miss me too much, and look forward to long beautiful Canadian summer. Feel free to connect with me on LinkedIn, if I don’t know you please at least introduce yourself and who you are. I am still on this thing called the twitter.

Also please reach out to the real open notebookers from SGC. Take a look here, these trainees are the ones doing the work and truly sharing their notebooks in real time as they do experiments, they are truly inspirational so I do hope everyone reads their posts and reaches out to them, as the more we talk and engage with each other as scientists, the more we can get done together. And to this end, check out my new article in the Conversation, something different but was fun writing something different. So now I have to hold up my end of the bargain, 10 blogs in 2 months, not a problem. Enjoy the weekend and catch you all Monday with my next blog focused on how to find iPSCS plus the full list of reagents used by my group. An essential starter park for new trainees. After this, we will then move onto thawing a tube of iPSCs and what to do. Until next time.


4 Replies to “The summer notebook of a principal investigator”

  1. Hi,

    Only just found this blog from a newsfeed pop-up. Glad to hear you taking some time out for yourself!
    I’m a 2nd year PhD student at Cardiff who works on cerebral organoids (took my first year just to create a set-up) and am fascinated with them too – my childhood dream was to make Pokemon rather than dinosaurs! I was wondering about what McGill University is like, and life in Quebec, as I am seriously thinking of a postdoc there (but not for at least another two years!). I’ve only heard good things so far. I work in neurodevelopmental disorders but really want to span into neuroinflammation and related diseases like fibromyalgia, ME and complex regional pain syndrome and have seen great work come out of the Alan Edwards Centre of Pain. Would love to hear back from you!

    1. I will admit that I might be a little biased, but life in Montreal and Canada really is great. ALthought we are in summer at the moment, so everything is better, so cold and winter does take adjusting to, but it could be worst. There are many great PIs here, and lot of people are doing great work in Neurodevelopmental biology. Just one example, this guy. Carl Ernst (, he is superstar who has flown under radar for too long but is going to be making big impact over coming months, lot of great stuff is coming from his lab, although you would need to excuse his hair. Besides development, neuroinflammation and pain are two big areas at the MNI and in other Montreal universities with many working on them, so you would be spoiled for choice. Plus the day and night life isn’t too bad, nice cafes, bars, great food and a joie de vivre hard to find anywhere else. Downside is construction, as we are currently rebuilding the entire city, so orange cone manufacturers are making huge money. But all in all, its great place and you should give it thought, as this city is always looking for newcomers to join our family here.

  2. Hello, my name is Juan Nil and I think you are a very handsome man. I once finished 3rd in a robot dancing competition in my village. Good times. I think the Mighty, Mighty Arsenal is the best soccer team in the world, correct? I also like Lil’pool, but does not fancy London Sp*rs.

    Keep up the good work,
    Juan Nil

    1. Thanks Juan for kind words, I would have to respectfully disagree on arsenal being a liverpool fan. At least they get a B grade for effort and hopefully they are more competitive for upcoming season.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *