The Division of Molecular Biology and Human Genetics occupies the fourth floor of the FISAN building at the SUN Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences. As its research programs have become better funded, substantial numbers of clinical and research staff have been added to its roster. One practical result of this addition was that I shared an office with three other researchers when I arrived in South Africa in late 2015. With the start of 2017, however, our division has gained access to office space on the third floor. I am happy to report that as of last week, I have a new solo office!
This move does not come without regrets, though. I have become friends with the inhabitants of F416, and my new hallway currently seems quite lonely by comparison. Sam Sampson is a group leader who came to SUN via the National Research Foundation “South African Research Chairs Initiative,” and she has impressed me with her concentration skills in our busy office. I also appreciate her thoughtful gift of teaspoons when mine went missing! I really value Kim Stanley’s friendship; she has been very tolerant of my practical jokes, and occasionally I catch a glimpse of her mischievous sense of humor. She invests countless hours in the REDCap study databases that undergird much of the research for our division. Nasiema Allie was the last of the four people in our office to arrive. Her job is quite critical since she ensures that the BSL3 lab facilities for our division are as safe as they can be. Why is that a big deal? Our division emphasizes research in tuberculosis, and we culture Mycobacterium tuberculosis from patient samples. Some of the strains we recover from patients are resistant to every drug available to treat this disease. Let’s just say that I don’t store my lunch in the freezers lining the division’s hallways!
My new digs are on the wing extending east from the FISAN entrance. To be on the third floor means I am several feet closer to the flock of chickens at ground level. When I open the window (!) of my new office to feel a sweet afternoon breeze, I also get to hear the crowing of the roosters. Last week we also had the questionable benefit of being closer to the smell of decomposition as cadavers were moved downstairs; FISAN is an Afrikaans abbreviation for “physiology and anatomy!” That said, the third floor has great accommodations for the bioinformatics and biostatistics students we will be training in SATBBI. The student chamber we have selected has abundant space, featuring bookshelves, a chalkboard, a bulletin board, and even a sink! Right outside we have a smaller area we hope to position as a meeting room.
This brings us to my office. I was one of the first professors to pick out my new home, and I decided on one featuring a blue wall (rather than the beige featured throughout the complex), an intact chalkboard (rather than the removal scars from one that had been removed), and a ledge underneath its narrow window. I discovered that the ledge was the perfect height for tucking a cabinet or drawer set from our old furniture upstairs. They will match the desk that my graduate student and I hauled downstairs from my old office. The ledge is sturdy enough that I can stand on it to raise my window, so I feel confident that it will house some plants for me soon!
Moving my computers down was a bit more worrisome. Happily, the LAN port (or “network point,” as they would say here) was already live, though it is a slower 100 Mbps rather than gigabit. In any case, my Ubuntu Linux file server “Deep Thought” made the transition downstairs without a hiccup. I recently brought my Intel Core i7 workstation “Alabaster” from home; it connects to the network wirelessly, so I can use a network wire to connect the two computers in my office directly. Using a gigabit network port exclusively to communicate between the pair means I can use the RAID from Deep Thought almost as though it were a local hard drive in Alabaster. This may be as good place as any to mention an act of generosity from Vanderbilt University. When I decided to move my lab to South Africa, the Department of Biomedical Informatics allowed me to move almost all the computers associated with my laboratory to Stellenbosch University! It made a real difference to my new division.
I have assembled a collection of treasures on my desk that link me to my past. Probably my oldest memento is a koosh ball that I acquired in high school. I am very fond of my jar of marbles for my discussions in frequentist biostatistics; I bought these marbles when I was starting as a professor at Vanderbilt from the Moon Marble Company, near Kansas City. My first Ph.D. graduate student bought me a jade pen holder that I use everyday. My singing bowl from China gets a special place of prominence. A small, red Buddha was a parting present from the Harkeys, close friends from Nashville. An analog clock from Vanderbilt reminds me of my friend Bing Zhang, who headed to Houston around the time I moved to Cape Town. I don’t remember where my Ganesh came from, but he has a reputation for finding the solutions to problems, so he definitely belongs on my desk!
My name placard has moved, I have given up my key to F416, and all my things have migrated downstairs. Over the weekend, my lovely girlfriend bought me white and colored chalk for my new chalkboard! Now it’s time for the science to flow from my desk once again. Wish me luck!