It’s the Easter break at the moment in the UK, the kids are off from school and thanks to a pair of bank holidays so are lots of adults. The Easter break is short (just 2 weeks) so unlike the summer anyone who’s going away tends to be away at the same time as anyone else. Meaning there is a kind of lab exodus of pale lab workers out into the sunshine and blossom of a spring day.
Which for those of us that prefer to work over the Easter break is great because as we wave our co-workers goodbye and the lab door closes behind them we can revel in the joy of having an entire lab to ourselves! I suggest doing a little dance to celebrate and then getting on with using this time productively.
1. Repatriate equipment
As I’ve previously discussed, sharing in labs is a very complex political event. Partly because ‘sharing’ is better described a theft. One person’s “just a minute” is another person’s “muhahah it’s mine now Brian!”. Part of the difficulty in getting it back is the fact that it’s either welded to someone’s experiment or there is the ever vigilant co-worker that will be there to deny that they ever borrowed it and this is the spectrophotometer they inherited from their granddad and they brought from home.
But once they’re gone then you can strike and relocate some of these back to their rightful home – your lab. A rookie would just take the equipment and try to hold on to it when they are back but a experienced researcher will leave decoy equipment. It will slow them down before they come hunting.
2. Dump equipment
Labs collect broken equipment like a sunny park collects shirtless people in the summer. Getting rid of broken equipment is a battle because no matter how broken and how old, someone will want to keep it because “the buttons on the panel might be useful”. What’s worse is that even if you managed to sneak it past co-workers they’ll inevitably see in in the skip and fish it back out. Many a scientific piece of equipment has moved from one lab to another via the skip outside.
But 2 weeks is long enough for garbage collection so dig deep into the cupboards and get throwing. Think of it as a very secret spring clean. There is nothing better than suddenly having lots more lab space and some old junk cleared out. In fact your colleagues might also enjoy that feeling so if you have time clear out their areas too. They’ll thank you when they’re back.
Now the big junk is gone it’s time to maybe give the lab a quick once over and try and remove some of the worst chemical stains and random bits of paper. No lab is complete without bits of paper strewn around the place covering the benches with scrawled notes and illegible numbers. Which, while giving an excellent veneer of productive work, need clearing up before yellowing to the point of becoming museum pieces. If you clear it up now you’ll even get a little time where the lab is clean before all those coworkers come back and mess it up. Nothing’s worse than cleaning one end of the bench while someone is making a mess the other end.
4. Enjoy the quiet
How often do you get to sit in a lab and just enjoy some peace and quiet? Research is so busy that it really helps every once in a while to sit quietly in your lab. There is something very calming about the hum of electric lights and the whirr of equipment in standby mode waiting for some productive science. Put on some Netflix maybe, just enjoy the space and the quiet in a serene state of relaxation.
So by now you’ve spent the entire break stealing stuff, throwing things away and watching movies in the lab. Pretty soon people will be back shouting and accusing you of various things you’re probably guilty of. Not only that but your next project meeting is probably going to be you explaining why you didn’t do anything for two weeks while your boss was away. If I was you I’d probably take a short holiday until it blows over. Take a couple of weeks off and just hope that your colleagues didn’t read this article and now know where to look for their equipment.