AN: This is a fun little slice-of-life Elsanna AU I'm writing that is set in a modern academic laboratory. For those of you who have read my ShizNat fanfic, Fujino Lab, the parody is somewhat similar, but the tone will be quite different. There will only be a couple little plot twists, while most of it is just as the title says:
Courtship of the Grad Student
so it'll be full of meaningless fluff and poking fun at my occupation. I do not own Frozen, obviously. That said, please enjoy, and if you have time, I'd really appreciate any reviews you could leave behind.
(This is the April 2015 edited version)
Undergrad research assistantships were notoriously difficult to find at the University of Arendelle, with entire lab buildings near emptied due to a deep cut in the national budget for the sciences. One would think the industry would then be more lenient in their demands for previous work experience, but the skyrocketing unemployment rate of fresh grad science majors spoke otherwise.
Taking the advice of her older friends, Anna Summers decided to hunt for a RAship despite the difficulties. She was never the type to back down, even if it meant mass emailing every faculty member of the Department of Microbiology and Immunology, including Dr. Winters, whose grey hair and pale, lifeless-looking face accentuated the connotation of his surname. It was almost impossible writing an enthusiastic cover letter with his photo on her desktop, but she was Anna Summers, personality warm enough to melt the Arctic even without the help of methane and CO2.
Perhaps it was due to her enthusiasm, but more likely just to stop her from spamming his inbox, Dr. Winters finally replied a month later with a single "OK" and a CC to elsa dot snow at uarendelle dot edu
So what did that mean?
Ten more emails down the drain asking when she should start, Anna decided the best way to tackle unresponsive profs was to storm their offices. Unfortunately for her, she was met by a locked door with a piece of paper taped on it saying, "On sabbatical till June 6". Great, that would be past her graduation!
Printing out the two-lettered reply from Dr. Winters, Anna went up to the reception to try and convince the building manager that even if Dr. Winters were on sabattical, she could still talk to the mysterious person on the CC line, who judging from the matching name on the lab website, was his grad student.
"Elsa Snow?" the lady replied incredulously. What, was the lab website a decade-old and this Elsa person had long graduated? Couldn't be. Grad students were permanent fixtures to the ceilings, they never graduated.
"I thought she's a grad student at the Winters Lab," Anna emphasized her thoughts. The lady nodded knowingly.
"Well, yeah, if you mean to say she must still be around. But you said you wanted to talk to her?"
Okay, now she could see the problem. In the field of science, the techs were usually the normal ones. The others? Well, let's just say they had a bit more personality. I mean, you had to have personality to torture yourself with another life's worth of education. Alright, Anna admitted that she was exaggerating the timeline for most PhD theses here, but nonetheless no understatement about torture.
"I'm sure it'll be fine, Ma'am! You know me, well you don't know me but you know me enough by now to know that I can rant on forever, so I think I can deal with it even if my grad student were a little socially-challenged...I meant 'distant' of course, distant, not in a bad way."
The lady quirked a finely-trimmed eyebrow at her. She plastered her best grin in response.
"Umm...so may I have a key card to the labs? I swear I'm not here to free the mice."
After another long, skeptical look at her redhead all the way down to her toes, the lady held out her hand, "Driver's License please."
She fished the license out of her wallet and gave it to the lady who put a key card in her palm in return, "I will call the police if you free the mice." And when she saw the Ginger's sheepish smile, she added, "For your sake, because a horde of mad scientists would be out for your blood."
"Yeah, I think I get it, you know, the thing with mad scientists, since I'm a science major myself," Anna said while retreating, stubbing her toe on a chair on the way out. With a loud "Ow!" and face red as a tomato, she stumbled her way down the stairs to the scanner that welcomed her new card with a beep and let her into the restricted area.
The Winters Lab lay on a deserted corridor across the cold room. First things she saw and heard the moment she pushed open the door were freezers, making a neat line across the left of the room, and benches cuddled close to them.
Oddly fitting, really, considering the surname of the PI.
"Hi," a plump middle-aged woman with dark hair held behind a forest-green knitted cap stepped up to Anna, "Are you looking for somebody?"
"Oh, I'm Anna, pleased to meet you!" she held out her hand only to be met with a polite smile and a light shake of the woman's head that referred to the gloves she was wearing, "Oh, sorry! I didn't realize you were wearing gloves. I mean, of course you would be wearing gloves, nothing wrong with that, I'm...just...what am I saying? I'm the dumb new undergrad reporting here for the first time. See? Dr. Winters said OK, literally."
She held out the printed email to the woman who nodded. "Oh, I see. Well, let me just finish loading this little mini-gel here and I'll get you settled down, seeing as you will be working with us for the rest of the year," she said, turning back to her experient while she continued with a smile, "I'm Gerda by the way, the lab manager, so if you need anything, feel free to come to me for assistance. Across from us is Kai, the post-doc, then on the next bay is Hans, our Masters student, and his undergrad, Kristoff. He's in fourth year. Which year are you in, Anna?"
"Same!" she beamed, though clearly not at the other undergrad. Her eyes skipped past Kai's half-bald head for the slickly-gelled auburns of the grad student behind him. His gaze was a bright green so electric that they practically shocked her heart to a momentary stop, not to mention that beautiful smile he was now wearing for her. Oh God, he was smiling at her! She could faint happily and wake up in heaven now.
Until his undergrad, Christopher was it, gave her his most demeaning stare with those dark marble eyes of his.
"Umm...Hi, Christopher?" she tried to sound nice. He only growled at her in return.
She wasn't in the best of moods either, crossing her arms and growling back. Only when Hans tugged Kristoff back and told him to "be nice" did their unfriendly staring contest end.
"Well, that was a nice introduction!" Gerda said as though nothing happened, the beautiful curvature of her lips still held upright. Wow, she was impressive. Just when Anna thought her own smile was already plastered...
"I'm terribly sorry for...for everything. And you were, I mean you still are, so nice, Gerda. It just..."
"Don't worry about it, Anna dear. Labs are more fun this way. So, should we find you a spot for your backpack?"
Gerda took off her gloves and led Anna to the right-side of the room where the temperature seemed to drop close to freezing. It was then that she realized why everybody crowded around the freezers on the opposite side - not because of the non-stop whining sounds they made, but because of the heat they gave off in an attempt to cool the insides. Seeing as things were probably going to start frosting over on this side though, Anna wondered if it would be more environmentally-friendly to just leave reagents on the benches here.
They came to a bay with one side occupied, the other side empty. By occupied, it meant that the desk and bench were occupied by inanimate, not living things, unless the streaked bacterial plates counted as such. Everything was pristinely clean, devoid of even a single speck of dust, and coloured lab tape crisscrossed atop the bench, drawing out complex bounds for every single object to be placed within. The arrangement reminded Anna of a spider web, but on second thought, the intricate art could use a prettier simile - snowflake, it was like a snowflake.
Except it was a rather threatening snowflake considering the tip boxes were taped together into a gigantic block with a big post-it on top reading, "Do NOT use and leave the empty boxes for me to stack. There are autoclaved tips in the drawer by the front entrance, walk there!" Similar post-its guarded easy access to the micropipettes on the spin rack, and an especially obnoxious-looking monster was drawn on a LB bottle, with a warning beside it saying, "The abominable snowman will kick you out the lab shall you dare sully this medium!"
By now, Anna had an idea who was the owner of this bench. Gerda nodded as though reading her thoughts, gesturing to the adjacent desk for her to sit at.
"Here's a seat for you. I'd suggest triple-lab-coating if it gets too cold. Unfortunately, the building's heating system is a little malfunctional on this side; at least this seat isn't under the air vent like Elsa's. And seeing as you will be working with her, I'll show you where she is now."
Oh great, finally time to go see her direct supervisor who was known throughout a building of weirdos as the weirdo. Let's hope their first meeting wouldn't end with her on the receiving end of a chucked centrifuge rotor.
In the end, it seemed her worries were unfounded.
Gerda showed her to a room at the end of the hall that had a sign saying "Tissue culture", under which a post-it added, "Flow cytometry", on top of which was an additional piece of tape reading, "Fluorescence imaging". Okay, so multi-purpose dark room it was then. Actually, the big fat piece of construction paper on the locked door was probably a more accurate description, "The Snow Queen's Domain."
"Elsa?" Gerda called when she knocked on the door, "Your new undergrad, Anna, has arrived."
Dot. Dot. Dot.
"Umm...Hi, I'm Anna. Nice to meet you," she tried to break the silence, but it remained, hanging stiffly to the air. Turning to face the lab manager, she whispered, "Are you sure she is in? Maybe she's on a washroom break..."
"I am rather certain she doesn't drink water while we're around, so no, she won't be at the washroom. And she does come in everyday. Look, the microscope is acquiring."
Anna curiously peeked at the narrow bottom slit between the door and ground that was filled completely with black until a flash of blue nearly made her heart jump to her throat, "Oh! That was not an explosion. That was the...ugh...microscope!?"
"The fluorescent scope on the green channel, yes. Pretty bright flash, isn't it? The Texas Red channel is an even more blinding lime green. In contrast, the DAPI channel is quite a subdued royal blue."
"Err...fascinating..." Anna came to the realization that she wasn't quite cut out as a nerd, yet. Interest aside, she did say she wouldn't give up on this opportunity so easily, so she grasped onto it and spoke through the door again, "Umm, Elsa? The microscope...it sounds really cool! Mind if I come in and watch?"
More silence, followed by a couple clicking sounds within the room, and then heavy silence once again.
When the screech of their lab printer sounded, Anna jumped, noticing she had been leaning on it all this time. It sat conveniently on a table beside the doorway so she had a good view of the freshly printed paper it spat out. On its second page, the printer hiccuped, and Gerda smashed its ancient massive body with two solid thuds to bring it back to working condition.
"Meet Olaf, the lab printer. It likes warm hugs."
If by hugging, Gerda meant smacking, Anna could definitely use a lesson on euphemism from her.
"Seems like Elsa wants you to take the safety courses first," Gerda continued, handing her the stack of paper that detailed the registration process, "Are you up for it?"
"Of course," she answered, though she was facing the door directly, "I look forward to working with the microscope after this is done!"
Anna decided that this was going to be one heck of a difficult research assistantship...
...but secretly her interest in the untouchable Snow Queen had piqued.
End of Chapter 1