Labs come in many shapes and sizes. In my first job there were just three of us. One who played golf, one experienced researcher and me, a fresh faced undergraduate. So at best, about 1.5 researchers worth of people. Now I work with a larger group that in total consists of around 20 researchers including professors and a small cohort of students.
Having a lab of more people tends to mean that there is an increased amount of equipment to use. Sadly however, this doesn’t ever seem to change the amount of equipment actually available. There is a golden ratio of working equipment to people that is a constant as well defined as Plank or Boltzmann. You will always have one set of equipment less than you want.
You may even try to shift this ratio by either buying more equipment or firing some of the staff wanting the equipment (they are so needy). But inevitably the ratio quickly returns as a set breaks or the staff member you just fired for asking for equipment steals it to offset your terrible redundancy package.
Whatever the reason, the ratio will be preserved and you will have to do something that is an unspeakable horror to many – you will have to share.
Now I know this might be a bit of a shock to some people. I have worked with several people to whom this was a dirty word. I once took over a project where its predecessor had taken to squirrelling away equipment in order to preserve it for their own use. I once knew another researcher who would routinely lock one of the pipettes away so that no one could use it while they were on holiday.
This makes for some frustrating work. Particularly as we are now in the summer holiday season and some of the people are away for up to two months. They rarely leave even a series of clues or a map with a cartoon X on it.
In the past I’ve tried several solutions to this. The first was probably the most common one – asking people nicely. This failed spectacularly. Turns out people who like to hoard equipment for themselves aren’t generally great at being nice. In fact I’d go so far as to say that they are big jerks.
Next I tried booking sheets. This worked okay. Slight problem was that it then made the paperwork burden to use a pipette a bit daunting. In retrospect, I probably should have drawn the line and not make them fill out a form for the exact number of tips – and the stand. I think I realised the system was doomed when the booking sheets themselves were borrowed as scrap paper.
My future idea is to attach elastic bungie cord to every bit of shared equipment so that it can’t go too far. It works for my 3 year old daughter and her gloves, so there’s hope it will work for 30-something year old researchers. Although I’m also hoping they don’t discover (like her) that stretching the elastic out and pinging the glove back is kind of fun. Not sure flying pipettes is a good idea.
Now I do appreciate that there are circumstances where not everything is shareable. For example, anything I’m using is obviously off-limits. My experiments are special and better than everyone else’s so clearly I need everything for me. But if the rest of you could start sharing stuff I think that would really be best for everyone… but particularly me.