"No fooling around in the lab, boys and girls; this is science!"
Reviewed by Clare O'Beara
Posted January 18, 2015
Here's an interesting hypothesis; women taking science
don't get treated the same way as men. To conduct an
experiment, let's turn Beth loose in a lab with male
scientists Vik and Hibs, and observe the reactions they
from their supervisor Mark. Add a stress factor - the
microscopes are booked up all day and they will have to
rush through a bacteria experiment every night for a
DOCTOR JANUARY is from a publisher new to me, based in the
UK. With a name like Choc Lit I was expecting the story
be light. Instead I found a seriously good contemporary
look at women, relationships and the world of work in a
version of The Women's Room for the twenty-first century.
The setting could as easily be banking, advertising or any
of a number of industries. Rhoda Baxter is writing about a
world she knows, having qualified in microbiology, and
she'll be a new name on my favourites list.
Beth has been dumped by a guy who went off to a job in
America. The consensus among the other scientists is that
the ex was an emotional bully, who stopped her from
pursuing her photography hobby. Beth thinks, what do they
know? The guys never had a long-term relationship. Her
trendy new flat-mate Anna might be wiser, but she's
got her eye on the good-looking, smart, well-mannered
men. Hibs, in particular, sincerely admires Beth, but
there's no point in trying anything while she's hung up on
that ex. Maybe he'll just buy her a drink or six on her
birthday, in between chasing off back to the lab and his
Becoming stronger once she's acknowledged she is her own
woman again, Beth proposes a calendar of attractive males
in the world of science, to encourage young women to
consider science as a career. Clothing will be worn, and
the men must have PhDs. Not every doctor likes the thought
of being hung on the wall and ogled. Who is going to be
This great fun concept deepens Beth's experience with her
PhD supervisor. The young men attract attention from a
cougar lady. And controlling, self-centred boyfriends get
their own behavioural study, making this a well-rounded
book. Rhoda Baxter has a brilliant theory, well executed
and full of excitement, tension and romance. DOCTOR
JANUARY should be read by every woman.
Six months after a painful break-up from Gordon, Beth's
finally getting her life back on track. She has faith in
own scientific abilities and is willing to work hard to
prove them. She's even beginning to see Hibbs (James
Hibbotson), her dedicated lab partner, as more than just
lousy lothario in a lab-coat.
So when Gordon returns from America without warning and
expects to be welcomed back into Beth's arms, she's
thrown. She also begins to see that Gordon isn't the man
thought he was...
Hibbs has always held a candle for Beth, but he can only
wait so long for her to realize there's more to life than
being patronized and bullied by the one who's meant to
and protect her.
Doctor January is romantic comedy with dark undertones.
dialogue is light and funny, but the main theme is about
saving someone from emotional abuse. It also touches on
difficulties faced by women in science.
ExcerptBeth removed her cycle helmet and fluffed up her hair
before she punched in the security code to get into the
labs. As soon as she entered the corridor, she heard the
shouting. Since she hadnât had a card or text from
Gordon, she was hoping sheâd at least get a couple of
cards and âhappy birthdaysâ from her colleagues, but it
looked like she got to witness some sort of argument
Vik, her fellow PhD student, was standing beside the door
to the lab, apparently listening.
A female voice wailed, âYou care more about those bloody
bacteria than you do about me!â
Beth shot Vik a questioning glance. He put a finger to
his lips, so she stopped outside the door too.
Hibs said something, his voice too low for Beth to make
out the words.
âWell, Iâve changed my mind,â the woman said. âYou can
keep your experiments. Iâve had enough. Weâre finished.â
Footsteps stamped towards the door.
Beth pulled back, flattening herself against the wall.
âWait,â Hibs said, and the footsteps stopped. âYou forgot
The girl made a strangled ugh noise and stormed out of
the door. Beth tried to look like she hadnât been
listening outside as the girl gave another ugh, marched
down the corridor and slammed the security door behind
Beth entered the lab to find Hibs concentrating on his
computer screen. âAre you okay?â
Hibs tied back his long hair and shrugged. He was tall
and slim and moved like something on the hunt. A Japanese
ancestor a few generations back meant he had a faint,
high-cheekboned exoticism about him. Beth was so
comfortable hanging out with him as a friend, it
sometimes surprised her that he was such a success with
women. On the other hand, he was so phenomenally bad at
keeping hold of the ones he bedded, that being his friend
was a far better long-term option.
âThat one lasted âŚ what, two weeks?â Beth asked as she
hung up her coat.
âTen days,â said Hibs as he returned his attention to the
Beth shook her head. âAnyone would think you donât really
want a girlfriend.â
âWhy would I want a girlfriend? They just get in the way
and make you go to dinner parties,â he said, without
turning away from the screen.
âNot all of them.â
Hibs grinned. âEnough pleasantries, come look at this.â
A Plexiglas partition separated the lab into two zones â
a dry area with desks and computers and, beyond it, the
âwetâ area, where the lab benches were. Beth tossed her
bags under her desk and went to stand next to Hibs. He
pointed to some red and green pictures on the screen.
âOh cool. Are those your glow-in-the-dark bacteria?â
âUh huh. GFP â green fluorescent protein.â He clicked a
button and the images overlaid each other to show little
black ovals with green spots. âThe green is my protein.
Look, you can see where it clusters in the cell.â
Beth nudged him out of the way and leaned closer to look
at the images, which showed a bacterium with two glowing
green patches. âThatâs cool,â she said. Her finger traced
the pattern of green. âSo, if we compared these to images
of your mutant bacteria and my mutant bacteria âŚâ
âWe could see if yours holds the other proteins
together.â Hibs finished off her sentence.
âCan we do it in time for Rogerâs presentation next
month? Weâve got six weeks.â It was their supervisorâs
turn to present the research done in his lab to the
microbiology departmentâs annual symposium. But Beth felt
that the slides sheâd contributed to the talk were not
very interesting â they didnât show any conclusions as to
what the protein she was studying actually did.
Hibs frowned. âNot sure.â
Beth pulled her diary out and started marking off the
days. âLetâs see. We each need to make the strains âŚ at
least six sets of images each âŚâ She crossed off days
until she ran out.
âWe donât have time.â Hibsâs voice was full of
disappointment. âBugger. It would have been really good.
Lots of nice pictures you could have used in your
Beth stared glumly at the diary covered in pencil marks.
If she could produce data that told a nice, solid story,
then Roger would have to show her some respect. And she
could get a decent research paper out of it. âWe can
still do the experiments,â she said. âIt just wonât be
done in time.â
âWhat are you two looking so pissed off about?â Vik came
in carrying a small bucket of ice chips. When heâd first
arrived, theyâd tried to use his full name â Kaushalya
Vikramarathne â but ever since their first trip to the
pub, heâd been known simply as Vik.
Beth outlined the problem and Vik pulled a face. âWhy
donât you use the microscopes downstairs?â
Hibs shook his head. âBooked solid for three months.
Theyâre only free at night.â
For a moment, they were all silent as Beth stood in
between the two men. There was a nice symmetry to it, she
thought â her, small and blonde, in between two guys who
were both tall and dark. Beth and her boys.
âShame youâre not nocturnal,â Vik said.
Nocturnal. Working at night had not occurred to her, but
now Vik had mentioned it, it was an obvious solution. She
looked at Hibs to see if he was thinking the same thing.
He was. âWe could run the experiments at night,â Hibs
said. âIt would probably be better, come to think of it.
Less chance of someone knocking the microscope out of
âWe could run our two experiments simultaneously âŚâ said
Beth, excitement rising in her chest. âAnd take it in
turns to do the night shift âŚâ
They looked at the diary again.
âItâll be a close call,â said Hibs. âWeâd have to work
every night to get it done in time.â He tapped a staccato
rhythm with his pen. âWhat do you think?â
âIâm up for it if you are,â Beth said.
âYou know me,â said Hibs. âIâm always up for it.â
Beth gave him a mock punch on the shoulder. âSeriously
though, it would take up lots of time. And neither of us
would be able to have a social life.â
Hibs shrugged. âI donât care. Iâm single.â
Beth glanced at him to see if he was going to comment on
the limbo status of her own relationship with Gordon but,
thankfully, he said nothing. Vik shook his head and
headed off to the other end of the lab.
âIâm going to ask Roger at the lab meeting,â said Beth.
âWhen he sees that my results donât support his theory,
heâs bound to let me try and prove mine.â
Beth felt she did well in her presentation, putting up
slides of DNA sequences and bar charts to show what the
mutant bacteria did. At the start of her PhD, standing
here in front of even three people would have terrified
her into stuttering. Now she was able to talk with more
âSo,â she said in conclusion. âThere are two
possibilities: either my protein acts as an âonâ switch
for the rest of the proteins, or it holds them together
so that they can communicate. Judging by these results, I
think itâs the second explanation.â
âLetâs have a look at those graphs again.â Roger, her
supervisor, crossed his arms over his belly. He raised
his eyebrows, making them ride up into his thinning
curls. âIt looks like they support the first hypothesis.â
Beth flicked back to the right slide. âYes, but the data
points are scattered. There isnât a significant effect.â
Roger glared at her for just long enough to tell her that
he did not appreciate being contradicted. Beth looked
âNo, I think youâre wrong,â Roger said. âYou just need
more data.â He leaned back in his seat and tapped the end
of his pen on the table. âDo me some slides. Iâm going to
throw some of this stuff into my departmental
presentation. The highlight will be Hibsâs pictures, of
course.ââActually,â said Beth. âIâm hoping to put Hibsâs
GFP proteins into mutants that are missing my protein. If
my protein is holding them together, removing it will
make the green end up scattered instead of nicely packed
into clusters. Iâve already started makingââ
âIs this true?â Roger turned to Hibs, who looked
Beth bristled. Why did he need to ask Hibs for
confirmation? Roger always did this âpretended that she
was incapable of independent thought. If he didnât think
she should be in science, then why on earth had he taken
her on as a PhD student?
âYes,â Hibs said. âBeth has started making the strains.
As she just said.â He nodded to Beth.
âWell, I think you should concentrate on getting those
graphs sorted out,â Roger said. âI need those slides by
the end of the month. You need a couple of extra data
sets so youâll have to get a move on.â
âBut the imagesââ
âOkay. Is there anything else?â Roger looked round the
table. Vik and Hibs both shook their heads. âRight,â said
Roger. âIâll see you next week.â He turned to Beth. âKeep
me posted on how that data set is coming along. Now, Iâve
got a meeting to go to.â He swept out.
Beth slapped the laptop shut, muttering under her breath.
She had been working in Rogerâs lab for two years now and
it was always the same. He undermined her at every step.
It wasnât as though he was even a good supervisor. She
wouldnât get any real direction on her project if it
werenât for Hibs.
âHey, steady on,â said Hibs. âItâs not the computerâs
fault that our boss is an arse.â
âHow come you donât get this kind of crap?â Beth said to
Vik, who was in his first year of a PhD and seemed to be
getting an easy ride of it so far.
Vik shrugged. âMaybe it takes him a while to work up a
vat of bile.â
âI think itâs because he doesnât like women in the lab.â
The minute she said it, doubt niggled. It was all very
well bringing out the sexism card, but was it true? Could
she be sure it wasnât just her that Roger didnât rate?
âHeâs a bully,â said Hibs. âYou really should stand up
for yourself a bit more, Beth. Youâre good at what you
do. You know that.â
The environment at her work was so stifling, with its
hierarchies and politics. It made her so angry. There
must be less confrontational places to work. âYeah, well,
just wait until I get enough data to write up my thesis.
I am so going to get into industry.â
Hibs poured out fresh teas and coffees for all three of
them. âWhat makes you think itâs any better out there?â
he asked as he put the drinks on a tray. âGet the door
for me, will you, Vik.â
They trooped upstairs, past Rogerâs office and into the
lab. Beth paused to check her pigeonhole for post. A card
from Mum and Dad. A couple from friends from undergrad
days, most of them joking about being a quarter of a
century old. She raced through them, scanning to see who
they were from and checking the envelopes twice, in case
Gordon had sent the card home for someone to post.
Beth stomped into the office and plugged the laptop in to
charge. Then she dropped into a chair and started to
check her e-mail â maybe heâd got in touch while she was
in the lab meeting.
There were messages from a number of friends. A few posts
on her Facebook wall. Nothing from Gordon.
Had he really forgotten her birthday? They had agreed to
stay in touch when he left, but after the first few e-
mails, there had been nothing. Beth sighed. Why couldnât
she just get over Gordon? She missed him so much it hurt.
It wasnât just the comfort of having a boyfriend. She
missed the way he looked at her, as though nothing and no
one else mattered. When he really made time for her, it
was incredible. Just thinking about it made her pulse
quicken. Gordon could make her feel sexy and alive in
ways that no one else had done. It was as though they
connected at a deeper level than normal. Without him,
everything seemed duller.
She banged out a couple of responses to old friends. She
didnât really have much to say to them nowadays. Theyâd
grown up and grown apart.
âWhatâs up?â Hibs came up behind her.
âNothing,â she said as she closed down her Facebook page.
She waited for him to squeeze past her chair and go over
to his desk, but he remained standing behind her
shoulder. âStill bothered about Roger?â
âYeah. Sort of.â And another thing â neither of the guys
had mentioned her birthday either. Well, that wasnât
fair. She always remembered theirs. She even organised
the collections and bought them presents. It was
official. This was the lousiest birthday ever.
Hibs patted her on the shoulder. âNothing like a bit of
work to get your mind off things. Come on, Miss Tyler. To
She shrugged his hand off and stood up. âSod off, Hibs.â
âNow thatâs no way to talk to your favourite postdoc.â He
pulled a disappointed face.
He was right. Just because Gordon had forgotten, she
shouldnât take it out on Hibs and Vik. âSorry.â She
pushed her hair back. âItâs not your fault. Iâm sorry.â
Mind you, she thought, Vik and Hibs had forgotten too.
That hurt. Sheâd thought they were friends she could rely
âApology accepted. Now, to work.â He made shooing motions
with his hands. Puzzled, Beth started towards her bench.
The benches were laid out so that the lab was divided
into a series of bays, with a walkway at the end
separating them from the communal equipment. It was a
small enough facility that Beth and Hibs had to share a
bay. Roger had commandeered the first bay for himself,
even though he rarely made it into the lab any more. Hibs
had started using it to store various boxes of kit.
Vik was loitering at the end of Bethâs work area. As the
newest member of the lab, he got the smallest bench,
tucked away in the back next to the solvent cupboard.
There was no reason for him to be near her bench.
Suspicion crept in. âWhatâs going on?â
âOkay, time to close your eyes.â Hibs was grinning. âGo
on. Close them. Otherwise Iâll have to put my hands over
âUgh, no way. I donât know where theyâve been.â She
closed her eyes. Hibsâs hand closed round her elbow and
he guided her towards her bench. The warmth of the
contact felt strange. She reminded herself that this was
only Hibs. They worked in such a small space that they
could almost bump into each other if they turned round
too quickly. So, sharing space with Hibs shouldnât bother
her in the slightest. Except, today it did. Maybe she was
just missing Gordon so much that physical contact with
anyone was a big deal. She had to pull herself together.
âOpen your eyes.â His voice was warm in her ear.
As she opened them, both men shouted, âHappy Birthday!â
Theyâd made a garland out of Eppendorf tubes and strung
it along her bench. Someone had filled up several daysâ
worth of yellow tip boxes and drawn big bows on the
autoclave tape that sealed them shut. Putting fiddly
yellow pipette tips in the racks was one of the most
boring chores in the lab and theyâd saved her having to
do any that week. In the middle of her tidy work area was
a parcel, wrapped up messily, as only boys could do.
âOh. How lovely. Thanks guys.â She really was touched.
The heavy sadness that had been settling on her lifted.
Theyâd remembered: she was loved.
âYou thought weâd forgotten, didnât you?â Vik was
practically bouncing with excitement. âGo on. Open the
present. Open the present.â
Beth tore open the wrapping. Inside was a gift voucher
for the camera shop in town and a T-shirt. She lifted it
out â it was a skinny top with âItâs okay Pluto, Iâm not
a planet eitherâ written on it.
âIs it the right size?â Vik said. âHibs guessed.â
âOf course itâs the right size,â said Hibs. He was
leaning back against his own bench, on the other side of
the small bay. âIâm good at guessing stuff like that.â
Beth held it against herself. It would be a snug fit, but
yes, it was the right size. It was kind of weird that
Hibs had guessed her size so accurately, but then, maybe
heâd seen enough womenâs bodies to become an expert on
them. Because heâd never made a move on her, sheâd
assumed that heâd not bothered noticing hers. It felt
unsettling to think that he had.
She picked up the birthday card. It had a Far Side print
of two bacteria on it and she laughed. âThatâs made my
Hibs watched Beth examining her gifts with pleasure. It
had taken him ages to find the right presents for her and
it was gratifying to see that she loved them.
His lips twitched into a little smile. They always did
that when he saw Beth. He couldnât think when sheâd first
started having this effect on him. Certainly, when heâd
first met her, heâd thought she was cute, sure, but
nothing much more than that. He might have even found her
attractive, but sheâd displayed her appalling lack of
taste by opting to go out with Gordon the Git, which made
Hibs think of her as some sort of pretty idiot for a
while. He knew now that she wasnât an idiot â just a girl
with terrible taste in men. Over the past few years
theyâd got to know each other well, like you do when you
work opposite each other day in day out, and now she was
a friend. Almost off-limits. But whenever he saw her, he
felt like heâd become a better person just by looking at
It had been a few months since Gordon the Git had flitted
off to America, and Beth had finally stopped coming into
work with red-rimmed eyes now. Maybe she was getting over
him. Maybe if he approached her âŚ but then if she wasnât
ready heâd have ruined a perfectly good friendship. Hibs
sighed. Better to leave things as they were for now.
Beth looked up and smiled. He stopped staring at her.
Just a friend. Just a friend.
âYou guys are the best.â She leapt off her seat and, to
his delight, gave him a quick peck on the cheek. He
watched Vik tense as Beth stepped towards him. She
hesitated and touched Vikâs arm instead. âThank you. I
Hibs tried not to touch the spot on his cheek where
Bethâs lips had touched it. She felt comfortable enough
to kiss him on the cheek, but not Vik. It didnât mean
anything, of course, but he couldnât help feeling
Beth folded the vouchers inside the T-shirt and stowed
them in her bag. âSo, pub tonight then?â
âOf course,â said Vik.
âNaturally,â said Hibs. âNow, perhaps we should all get
back to work? Before Roger comes in and accuses us of not
being serious scientists.â
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