Cake. What a pleasure is cake.
But cake can be more than just something good to eat.
When I was an honours and postgraduate science student, cake was an important ritual in my research life.
My University department was set up like a double-fronted cottage – we had a central corridor, with individual laboratories set up along each side. At the front was perched the Professor’s office, a front desk for the receptionist, and a tea room.
The tea room consisted of four clunky old tables pushed together, an assortment of chairs and a dusty pot plant which may or may not have been actually living.
Pinned to the grotty wall was a list. A list – in calendar order – of the birthdays of all departmental members. As each auspicious date approached, the relevant member was required to select a cake from the menu photocopied from our favourite bakery. On the actual day, our favoured pick-up man Sean-the-PhD-student-in-circadian-biology would take the departmental ute and collect the cake.
At precisely 10.30am the bell would sound. Yes, the bell. Mounted on the corridor wall just outside the tearoom was a brass bell with a ringer.
GONG GONG GONG
watch the scientists run!
Out of the laboratories poured the scientists. Out, out, out to the tea room!
There, we’d eat cake. Obviously.
But we’d also talk.
My experiments aren’t working.
Who else is going to this conference?
Look, I really need someone to read over my grant proposal.
The crowd would dwindle from about 30 people when cake was first served, and after about 30 minutes only 2-5 would persist, stuck in deep conversation. Conversation that would never have take place in the laboratory spaces.
But we weren’t the only ones.
Check out this article by Katherine Nightingale on how a chat over a coffee can lead to unexpected discoveries, and this storify compilation from RealScientists tweeter and science cake baker Eva Amsen.
Scientists. Let them eat cake.