10 things you shouldn’t do in the lab (but you’ll probably do anyway)

September 6, 2012

  1. Reach for your samples in the liquid nitrogen or a hot autoclaved bucket without protective gloves – As a result of touching burning hot objects or dangerously cold tubes, my fingers fear not the cold or heat. It was a painful path indeed and I don’t recommend a similar fate for you.
  2. “Forget” to check labels – A few nights ago I was daintily razoring some two dozen bands from an agarose gel.  I just assumed the splash guard I was wearing had a UV filter…and had I checked the label I would have realized that it didn’t. My eyeballs are still hurting.
  3. Smack a machine with the intention of fixing it – I was once tasked the responsibility of fixing a non-operational magnetic stirrer. Having no background in electronics, I reasoned that the best approach was to smack the stir plate. I was lucky in that it worked the first time but has it worked since? Of course not.
  4. Leave broken equipment alone – Unfortunately, it’s incumbent upon you to at least to *try*. Case in point: Both the P.I. and post-doc in my Masters lab tried to connect a UV/Vis plate reader to the computer. After a few minutes of button clicking and software toggling, they both gave up not knowing how to troubleshoot or fix it. I stepped in, replugged all the connections (removing an unnecessary USB adapter) and the reader magically synced with the software.
  5. Leave the gas on – In the 11th grade I singed my bangs with a lit flame. In university lab my labmate tipped the Bunsen burner over while I was wiping the benchtop with ethanol. I’m not your burn victim, folks.
  6. Bring your dog/cat/animal – Bringing your dog to work has become a growing trend at many popular tech companies and I’ve occasionally seen scientists bring their dogs into a busy lab. As well trained as Fido may be, there’s always a chance that he might take a lick of the chemical coated ground or bury his face in an open container of used syringes. Just sayin’.
  7. Borrow without asking – Some are particular about it and some aren’t. Err on the side of caution and make sure to cover your tracks.
  8. Cry and punch things- You can cry when you get home, hell, you can cry a few meters outside the lab but please don’t cry at your lab bench. You become a safety hazard, you distract others who are hard at work, and you could potentially contaminate samples with the excessive snot and tears. As for the aggression – take it out during jiu-jistu practice.
  9. Record notes on a Post-it – At that point you might as well keep it all “memorized in your head.” Take the time at the end of the day (or even the week) to carefully write down what you did and keep a page in your lab notebook to jot down quick numbers or notes for the day. Post-it’s have a tendency to clutter your notebook or become misplaced.
  10. Be miserable – If this happens at any point, take a break. The worst thing you could ever do is continue working while feeling emotionally drained. I understand you just want to “get it done”, I know that if you don’t work now, you’ll fall behind later but the truth is, science stops working when you stop having fun.

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