About two-thirds of the way into our wedding celebration, J went to the bar to get me a Bijou. The Bijou is an exceptionally delicious cocktail made with gin, sweet vermouth, and green chartreuse that, when made properly, is a gorgeous medium amber in color. But when J returned, the drink he handed me was instead just clear, perhaps slightly yellow.
"This is not a Bijou," I said. "Did the bartender mishear you, maybe?" J went to investigate, and came back with the information that the bartender had run out of sweet vermouth, so he used dry instead, without mentioning this to J when he ordered. Now, as you and I both know, one cannot simply substitute dry vermouth for sweet--they're completely different things! But rather than originally tell J that he was sorry, but he wouldn't be able to have a Bijou at that moment, he tried to cover things up and pass off a sub-par (and quite different) product as the real deal.
This kind of thing was not super cool at our wedding (though see below for happy ending resolution), and it is DEFINITELY not cool in the lab. As several of us discussed on the twitters yesterday, you HAVE to tell someone when something goes wrong. Don't try to hide it, and for sure don't try to half-assedly patch things up. Trust me, your PI will be way less mad at you if you tell her right away than if she finds out later on due to wonky data or broken equipment. In fact, she probably won't be mad at you at all! We are scientists, and we are in the business of solving problems. If you encounter an unforeseen problem in the midst of working on your planned problem-solving, find someone to help you solve that problem-within-a-problem! You simply cannot let pride or fear of embarrassment/repercussions keep you from speaking up, especially when it comes to letting the PI know about things. Don't forget that she didn't get where she is today without fucking up many, many times. Many. Really, just a ton of times.
Whenever a new person joins the lab, I make it unequivocally clear that they MUST let someone know if they're unsure about what they're doing, if they're uncomfortable doing anything, or if something didn't go the way they think it should have. I'm not trying to quash anyone's independence here, but I think an environment in which people are comfortable asking for help is important.
So, how did we solve the Great Vermouth Crisis of 2012? We found the catering head, and let her know that they'd run out of sweet vermouth. She was surprised to hear that, and after talking more with the bartender, found out that a bottle had been dropped and broken, but no one had told her. And even though it was 10pm on a Sunday, she worked her rolodex until she found a nearby venue that would sell her a bottle. And rest assured, I got my Bijou! But see? If the person capable of solving the problem had been alerted to the problem when it happened, and not hours later, so many more Bijous could have been had!
Moral of the story: if you want your lab to have Bijous, tell your PI when you drop a bottle of vermouth!