Thursday, December 21, 2006

The Seven Deadly Sins for Lab Rats

From time to time I get pretty bothered by what I see as stupidity in the lab, or even just inefficiency, especially if it affects me and slows down my work (it's all about me, don't you know. Call me Prideful). So I've decided to list what I feel are the Seven Deadly Sins for lab rats like myself. You know the normal Seven Deadly Sins, right? Lust, Gluttony, Greed/Avarice, Sloth/Laziness, Wrath, Envy, and Pride. Well throw those out the door, Bubba, because none of them actually bother me in the lab. Heck, many of them are major drivers for biotech and academics! And I wouldn't mind a little more lust and gluttony. So here are the seven sins (in no particular order) that I feel are more appropriate for folks working in lab settings:

Disorganization: I'm guilty of this one. My lab book is a mess, and my desk matches it. My lab fridge could use some organization, too. At least my lab bench is clean. But let's face it, if you aren't organized you could lose all those tidbits of protocol and innovation that spring from your genius mind (at least, *my* genius mind – remember, Pride is not a sin in the lab!).

Recklessness: Safety first, folks! Put on your lab coat, gloves, and safety glasses, keep an extinguisher and first aid kit nearby, and don't do anything stupid. Nearly every lab has explosive, mutagenic, radioactive, pathogenic, or corrosive chemicals or materials. We have a lab assistant at work who cleans glassware. He routinely handles potentially-contaminated glassware without gloves, puts broken glassware back into drawers, and walks around in "clean" areas in his stained lab coat (including the bathroom, ew!). I keep expecting him to keel over any day from self-poisoning, and no doubt he would glow from all the dyes he has exposed himself to. I just hope he doesn't poison my fat ass in the process!

Bias: Go ahead, be optimistic. But check that optimism (or pessimism) at the lab door, cuz I want the ugly truth to my data. We had a director here a few years ago who had pre-conceived notions about what the results should be for a product in development. When the product sucked, he blamed us for "not thinking optimistically." We were eventually vindicated when the data was overwhelmingly bad and the customers were complaining, but things would have been so much easier if he had just seen the light. Hiding bad data to make yourself look good counts here, too.

Sloppiness: My first boss at my evil global biotech company had been a man who had no lab skills whatsoever. He could never stick to a protocol or measure anything. He'd throw in a little of this and a little of that and let the solution mix for, oh, a *while*. Yet he thought he was hot stuff. "I worked with a Nobel laureate," he'd boast, but he could barely operate a pipettor. Funny, he couldn't repeat any results 'til I got hired. Lab work ain't Granny's cookin'.

Shyness: I've heard it said many times that one of the greatest phobias people have is public speaking. No scientist can go long in the biz without giving presentations on their data, at least to lab groups, but also at conferences, and sharing their techniques with their peers. Schools and colleges don't do enough to teach public speaking and writing courses. Do you have a fear of public speaking? Don't worry, we'll only laugh at you on the inside.

Ignorance: You've got to know your science and techniques, and *admit* it if you don't. At the very least you should know who to go to or what references to check. I can think of plenty of examples where I got projects or compounds passed to me from others to do R&D on, but spent most of my time figuring out all the stuff they messed up. I don't want to take the fall for their incompetence. It doesn't pay to be a dumbass, folks. Sadly, I think most people don't realize how little they know.

Fraudulence: This is by far the worst. Oh, it won't kill you like Recklessness might, but at least if you die it's your own damned fault. Nothing gets me angrier than when I spend months developing some innovation of my invention only to have my boss take all the credit, or when some beautiful image of mine gets the cover of a science journal but some other scientist gets their name listed (or there is no name at all). Both have happened to me. Science if rife with lab P.I.'s (principal investigators) who get authorship on papers but fail to give co-authorship to the technicians who actually did the work. I keep waiting for a news report of a lab rising up and lynching their P.I. for this. Watch out, you frauds out there: rope isn't very common in the lab, but there's plenty of tubing.

So there you go. If you avoid these seven deadly sins, you lab rats will go straight to Science Heaven, where Saint Darwin will issue you your golden pipettor and open the gates to that great lab bench in the sky.


Maggie said...

2. This guy is allowed to walk freely among society and he's that gross and dumb? Tsk tsk.

3. And I was naive enough to think that bias never even entered the hallowed halls of science! Bias and science should be like oil and water no?

4. This is how I cook. Not an avenue I want to think of the scientists making the next great cure or other product acting. I did learn today what a pippetor is. Thank you ALR.

6. This is a plague in so many fields. I saw much of this in software development.

BioBoy said...

Oh, Saint Darwin, I have sinned! My lab book is a mess and I can't find my protocol! Whatever shall I do!!!

Seriously, you're dead on here, AngryLabRat. I've seen many a benchmonkey such as myself fall by the wayside due to too many Sins.