This is my final week in the lab (as a masters student). I started out in the fall of 2011 and as I’m writing this my last batch of seedlings has 2 hours left of incubation in my last experiment. All this time spent in the lab has led me to recognize the «natural laws of the lab» and I figured this was the perfect occasion to summarize them:
1. Commonly used stuff disappears
Items are known to go missing from the lab, regardless of the owner or the nature of the item. Bottles of ethanol and marking pens are uncommonly susceptible to disappearing and no amount of marking will save them. Key ingredients from shared kits are also at high risk and if possible such high risk items should be locked away at your own bench spot. Whenever you can: gather and hide them, making sure no one else can find and remove them.
2. Lab coats doesn’t come in your size
There is no way of fighting this, unless you belong to some kind of wonder-lab with tidy benches and a working radio. Lab coats just doesn’t come in your size and you should stop looking. Use whatever you find, roll up the sleeves and don’t bother stopping the coat from dragging along the floor. Don’t mind the others laughing, remember: you have the ethanol bottle!
3. Hair preys on face
At the point when you are most occupied in the fume hood, have gloves full of E.coli or are about to inoculate a new culture, your hair will attack your face. In most cases it aims for the nose or eyes and causes an immediate itching that is unberabale to the prey…err… your face. There is no known cure except for intensive rubbing, usually performed with the upper arm although this method is vastly ineffective. Wearing a surgeons cap has been found to be preventive in cases of short hair or no bangs, but such equipment is not always available.
4. There is no such thing as too much coffee
This goes without saying. Get hold of a huge mug, find the best coffee maker and hide your mug outside the lab so you can fill up during the short breaks. Try not knocking over other people’s mugs, that’s just bad attitude.
5. Paranoia is mandatory
Life in the lab is crazy, and accordingly you will go crazy. How can you be sure that everyone handles shared euipments the way they should? Are you sure that buffer isn’t contaminated? Was it prepared properly? You had to get your lab mate take care of your babies…sorry, cells last week. What if he trypsinated them too long? Even though you specifically said 4.5 minutes, what if he did 5?
The key to handling lab paranoia is either to do everything yourself (only for the extreme cases) or to not think about it and eat chocholate whenever the feeling of horror and despair hits you.
6. Don’t mind the forgetfulness
In the end, lab becomes routine and at this point you will start to forget. You have prepared that solution hundreds of times, you know your experiments better than your own coffee mug and you could do them in your sleep. The problem is that when you reach this stage you are doing your experiments in sleep. Everyting goes perfectly well during the day, but when you get home you can’t remember anything. Did you dilute the stock solution? Did you close the fridge? Did you even put the solution back in the fridge?
Chances are you did, but you can’t remember. As our brains are built to forget most of what happens everyday (wouldn’t it be worse if you remembered everything?) there is no cure. Write as much as is sensible or enough to calm yourself in your lab journal and move on.
7. Occasionally your brain will fall out
Late hours, repeated pipetting for hours a day, lack of food or too much chocolate? Whatever the cause you will on occasion loose your brain and become… stupid. Suddenly you won’t know how many grams you need to make 10ml of a 1g/ml solution, you don’t know the day of the week or why you got up so early. Don’t worry. Stay where you are and don’t go looking for your brain, it will find you.
8. You are the master, learn to live with it!
A common thing to say to master or PhD students is that «you are the expert. No one knows your project as well as you do». It is meant to be encouraging, but if you don’t beware it will be enraging. As you are the expert, you are also the only one that really cares whether incubation should last 3 min or 2,5 min. You are the only one who can’t sleep at night, pondering if this or that is the right thing to do. Although you might well be frustrated, you are the expert. This is the burden of (very detailed) knowledge and you just have to live with it.
If there’s anything I forgot, add them to the comments. I’m going food hunting!