When I was in school, I was often told that I had to practice essay writing because I’ll need to do it later in life. When I was about 10, it honestly sounded like the sort of thing your teachers tell you so that you’ll actually keep doing something that is clearly pointless. Up until that moment, all the jobs I knew (like taxi driver, ice cream salesman, and pharmacist) all seemed to involve mostly either sitting, standing or walking between shelves. None of them appeared to involve sitting for 2 hours and laboriously typing out a review of Chaucer with a focus on the mysogenistic impact of the Wife of Bath character.

But 10 year old me was wrong.

10 year old me was wrong about a lot of things but this one in particular. Not the bit about the Wife of Bath – obviously everyone knows the answer to that and wouldn’t waste time asking people to write yet more about it. No, I mean that I was wrong about needing to write things.

From the very first job I had, the amount of writing I was doing instead of decreasing, actively increased. For a start, my three word lab books from my Uni days didn’t cut it anymore. There were people who needed to know what I was doing and in slightly more detail than “Made solution A, it failed”. I was also working on things that might have actual value to the company so they were quite keen to have proof that I had actually done the work.

Eventually, I was writing full standalone operating procedures, setting out all the ins and outs of techniques or equipment, so that other people could run my experiments and do the same procedures (we were a development lab, this was quite important). Some of these could be as much as 6 pages long and there were tens of them!

In academia, I obviously spend an unmentionable amount of time writing papers and grant applications. But now there are also reports – huge unwieldy reports… In some cases, it’s reports on reports. And in one case, it was a report on reports on guidance notes. Some of those reports have become quite important – I fear how many more levels I may end up being asked to write about. The 9th circle of hell is just people from the 8th circle who are made to write reports about the previous circles.

The worst part of all of this is that, as I’ve grown and matured, I’ve realised that it’s all so frustratingly useful!

I’ve lost count of the times that I’ve been pleased to find that I’ve written important lab notes in depressingly accurate detail. Or the times I’ve sighed in relief to find that the previous user of some equipment has left a clear operating procedure. While writing them certainly stops me sitting in my lab chair doing something exciting, all that writing has almost always ended up making the time I do spend in my lab chair more efficient.

If I could send a note to 10 year old me, then it would be “Pay attention to your English teacher, it’s important! I know you hate it, but focus!!”. 10 year old me had really terrible dyslexia so there’s every chance I would have just read it and been confused why anyone would send me a note about my English teacher being impotent. But should anyone invent that time machine, then maybe, just maybe, that note will prompt me to focus more on writing and I’d change – and maybe even get good enough to reach the pinnacle of literacy, becoming a blogger.

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1 Comment

Writing and labs, the research ebb and flow – ErrantScience · 28 November 2017 at 09:31

[…] of research lab time and paper work seems almost impossible. I’ve written before about how researchers need to be good at writing but sometimes it can be the ONLY thing we need to be good at! Now I must cut this short I have a […]

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