"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 hadn’t had a card or text from
Gordon, she was hoping she’d at least get a couple of
cards and ‘happy birthdays’ 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, ‘You care more about those bloody
bacteria than you do about me!’
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.
‘Well, I’ve changed my mind,’ the woman said. ‘You can
keep your experiments. I’ve had enough. We’re finished.’
Footsteps stamped towards the door.
Beth pulled back, flattening herself against the wall.
‘Wait,’ Hibs said, and the footsteps stopped. ‘You forgot
The girl made a strangled ugh noise and stormed out of
the door. Beth tried to look like she hadn’t 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. ‘Are you okay?’
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.
‘That one lasted … what, two weeks?’ Beth asked as she
hung up her coat.
‘Ten days,’ said Hibs as he returned his attention to the
Beth shook her head. ‘Anyone would think you don’t really
want a girlfriend.’
‘Why would I want a girlfriend? They just get in the way
and make you go to dinner parties,’ he said, without
turning away from the screen.
‘Not all of them.’
Hibs grinned. ‘Enough pleasantries, come look at this.’
A Plexiglas partition separated the lab into two zones –
a dry area with desks and computers and, beyond it, the
‘wet’ 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.
‘Oh cool. Are those your glow-in-the-dark bacteria?’
‘Uh huh. GFP – green fluorescent protein.’ He clicked a
button and the images overlaid each other to show little
black ovals with green spots. ‘The green is my protein.
Look, you can see where it clusters in the cell.’
Beth nudged him out of the way and leaned closer to look
at the images, which showed a bacterium with two glowing
green patches. ‘That’s cool,’ she said. Her finger traced
the pattern of green. ‘So, if we compared these to images
of your mutant bacteria and my mutant bacteria …’
‘We could see if yours holds the other proteins
together.’ Hibs finished off her sentence.
‘Can we do it in time for Roger’s presentation next
month? We’ve got six weeks.’ It was their supervisor’s
turn to present the research done in his lab to the
microbiology department’s annual symposium. But Beth felt
that the slides she’d contributed to the talk were not
very interesting – they didn’t show any conclusions as to
what the protein she was studying actually did.
Hibs frowned. ‘Not sure.’
Beth pulled her diary out and started marking off the
days. ‘Let’s see. We each need to make the strains … at
least six sets of images each …’ She crossed off days
until she ran out.
‘We don’t have time.’ Hibs’s voice was full of
disappointment. ‘Bugger. 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. ‘We can
still do the experiments,’ she said. ‘It just won’t be
done in time.’
‘What are you two looking so pissed off about?’ Vik came
in carrying a small bucket of ice chips. When he’d first
arrived, they’d tried to use his full name – Kaushalya
Vikramarathne – but ever since their first trip to the
pub, he’d been known simply as Vik.
Beth outlined the problem and Vik pulled a face. ‘Why
don’t you use the microscopes downstairs?’
Hibs shook his head. ‘Booked solid for three months.
They’re only free at night.’
For a moment, they were all silent as Beth stood in
between the two men. There was a nice symmetry to it, she
thought – her, small and blonde, in between two guys who
were both tall and dark. Beth and her boys.
‘Shame you’re not nocturnal,’ 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. ‘We could run the experiments at night,’ Hibs
said. ‘It would probably be better, come to think of it.
Less chance of someone knocking the microscope out of
‘We could run our two experiments simultaneously …’ said
Beth, excitement rising in her chest. ‘And take it in
turns to do the night shift …’
They looked at the diary again.
‘It’ll be a close call,’ said Hibs. ‘We’d have to work
every night to get it done in time.’ He tapped a staccato
rhythm with his pen. ‘What do you think?’
‘I’m up for it if you are,’ Beth said.
‘You know me,’ said Hibs. ‘I’m always up for it.’
Beth gave him a mock punch on the shoulder. ‘Seriously
though, it would take up lots of time. And neither of us
would be able to have a social life.’
Hibs shrugged. ‘I don’t care. I’m single.’
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.
‘I’m going to ask Roger at the lab meeting,’ said Beth.
‘When he sees that my results don’t support his theory,
he’s bound to let me try and prove mine.’
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
‘So,’ she said in conclusion. ‘There are two
possibilities: either my protein acts as an “on” switch
for the rest of the proteins, or it holds them together
so that they can communicate. Judging by these results, I
think it’s the second explanation.’
‘Let’s have a look at those graphs again.’ Roger, her
supervisor, crossed his arms over his belly. He raised
his eyebrows, making them ride up into his thinning
curls. ‘It looks like they support the first hypothesis.’
Beth flicked back to the right slide. ‘Yes, but the data
points are scattered. There isn’t a significant effect.’
Roger glared at her for just long enough to tell her that
he did not appreciate being contradicted. Beth looked
‘No, I think you’re wrong,’ Roger said. ‘You just need
more data.’ He leaned back in his seat and tapped the end
of his pen on the table. ‘Do me some slides. I’m going to
throw some of this stuff into my departmental
presentation. The highlight will be Hibs’s pictures, of
course.’‘Actually,’ said Beth. ‘I’m hoping to put Hibs’s
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. I’ve already started making—’
‘Is this true?’ Roger turned to Hibs, who looked
Beth bristled. Why did he need to ask Hibs for
confirmation? Roger always did this –pretended that she
was incapable of independent thought. If he didn’t think
she should be in science, then why on earth had he taken
her on as a PhD student?
‘Yes,’ Hibs said. ‘Beth has started making the strains.
As she just said.’ He nodded to Beth.
‘Well, I think you should concentrate on getting those
graphs sorted out,’ Roger said. ‘I need those slides by
the end of the month. You need a couple of extra data
sets so you’ll have to get a move on.’
‘But the images—’
‘Okay. Is there anything else?’ Roger looked round the
table. Vik and Hibs both shook their heads. ‘Right,’ said
Roger. ‘I’ll see you next week.’ He turned to Beth. ‘Keep
me posted on how that data set is coming along. Now, I’ve
got a meeting to go to.’ He swept out.
Beth slapped the laptop shut, muttering under her breath.
She had been working in Roger’s lab for two years now and
it was always the same. He undermined her at every step.
It wasn’t as though he was even a good supervisor. She
wouldn’t get any real direction on her project if it
weren’t for Hibs.
‘Hey, steady on,’ said Hibs. ‘It’s not the computer’s
fault that our boss is an arse.’
‘How come you don’t get this kind of crap?’ 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. ‘Maybe it takes him a while to work up a
vat of bile.’
‘I think it’s because he doesn’t like women in the lab.’
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 wasn’t just her that Roger didn’t rate?
‘He’s a bully,’ said Hibs. ‘You really should stand up
for yourself a bit more, Beth. You’re good at what you
do. You know that.’
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. ‘Yeah, well,
just wait until I get enough data to write up my thesis.
I am so going to get into industry.’
Hibs poured out fresh teas and coffees for all three of
them. ‘What makes you think it’s any better out there?’
he asked as he put the drinks on a tray. ‘Get the door
for me, will you, Vik.’
They trooped upstairs, past Roger’s 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 – maybe he’d 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 couldn’t
she just get over Gordon? She missed him so much it hurt.
It wasn’t 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
didn’t really have much to say to them nowadays. They’d
grown up and grown apart.
‘What’s up?’ Hibs came up behind her.
‘Nothing,’ 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. ‘Still bothered about Roger?’
‘Yeah. Sort of.’ And another thing – neither of the guys
had mentioned her birthday either. Well, that wasn’t
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. ‘Nothing like a bit of
work to get your mind off things. Come on, Miss Tyler. To
She shrugged his hand off and stood up. ‘Sod off, Hibs.’
‘Now that’s no way to talk to your favourite postdoc.’ He
pulled a disappointed face.
He was right. Just because Gordon had forgotten, she
shouldn’t take it out on Hibs and Vik. ‘Sorry.’ She
pushed her hair back. ‘It’s not your fault. I’m sorry.’
Mind you, she thought, Vik and Hibs had forgotten too.
That hurt. She’d thought they were friends she could rely
‘Apology accepted. Now, to work.’ 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 Beth’s 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. ‘What’s going on?’
‘Okay, time to close your eyes.’ Hibs was grinning. ‘Go
on. Close them. Otherwise I’ll have to put my hands over
‘Ugh, no way. I don’t know where they’ve been.’ She
closed her eyes. Hibs’s 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 shouldn’t 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.
‘Open your eyes.’ His voice was warm in her ear.
As she opened them, both men shouted, ‘Happy Birthday!’
They’d made a garland out of Eppendorf tubes and strung
it along her bench. Someone had filled up several days’
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 they’d 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.
‘Oh. How lovely. Thanks guys.’ She really was touched.
The heavy sadness that had been settling on her lifted.
They’d remembered: she was loved.
‘You thought we’d forgotten, didn’t you?’ Vik was
practically bouncing with excitement. ‘Go on. Open the
present. Open the present.’
Beth tore open the wrapping. Inside was a gift voucher
for the camera shop in town and a T-shirt. She lifted it
out – it was a skinny top with ‘It’s okay Pluto, I’m not
a planet either’ written on it.
‘Is it the right size?’ Vik said. ‘Hibs guessed.’
‘Of course it’s the right size,’ said Hibs. He was
leaning back against his own bench, on the other side of
the small bay. ‘I’m good at guessing stuff like that.’
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
he’d seen enough women’s bodies to become an expert on
them. Because he’d never made a move on her, she’d
assumed that he’d 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. ‘That’s 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 couldn’t think when she’d first
started having this effect on him. Certainly, when he’d
first met her, he’d thought she was cute, sure, but
nothing much more than that. He might have even found her
attractive, but she’d 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 wasn’t an idiot – just a girl
with terrible taste in men. Over the past few years
they’d 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 he’d 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 … but then if she wasn’t
ready he’d 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.
‘You guys are the best.’ 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 Vik’s arm instead. ‘Thank you. I
Hibs tried not to touch the spot on his cheek where
Beth’s lips had touched it. She felt comfortable enough
to kiss him on the cheek, but not Vik. It didn’t mean
anything, of course, but he couldn’t help feeling
Beth folded the vouchers inside the T-shirt and stowed
them in her bag. ‘So, pub tonight then?’
‘Of course,’ said Vik.
‘Naturally,’ said Hibs. ‘Now, perhaps we should all get
back to work? Before Roger comes in and accuses us of not
being serious scientists.’
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