As a science university student I’d conservatively guess that around 80% of my science time was sat on my bum. I seemed to spend most of my time in lectures or sat at a lab bench confused as to why my Petri dish of cheese mould was on fire.

Even on TV science was always someone staring down a microscope while sat on a lab stool. Besides Dana Scully TV scientists didn’t do anything much more energetic than hand results to the hero that plays by his/her own rules.

When I got my first job I was fully expecting it to require the fitness regime of that cheese mould.

It came as something of a shock that actual science requires getting off my arse and walking, a lot of walking.

First off, nothing is ever where you left it, expect it, or need it to be. This means you always spend no small amount of time walking back and forth in the lab. I have a working theory that scientific equipment itself goes for walks but that is for another time. Whatever the reason, when you are working in the lab everything you need is bound to be located at the furthest points of your lab and require multiple trips to find.

Walking around the lab muttering and looking for things is a tradition in research going back since a cave person made their hand in the shape of a rock asked themselves where they had put that big rock they needed for smashing the roundish rock, they had it just moment ago….

Secondly, you rarely even have everything you need in one lab. The law of experiments states that you have n-1 the number of bits of equipment you need to complete the experiment. That means you have to borrow things from other people which also means walking off to their labs to ask very nicely.

If you’re lucky you know where to go ask, otherwise your walking includes as many other labs as you can find asking each one for the particular range pipette you need.

Thirdly is the ubiquitous meeting. Meetings cause enough suffering while you’re in them but before you even get to that point you need to find them! Meetings have an amazing habit of never being held near either your desk or your lab.

I’m not saying that the people that manage meeting room bookings have all gone mad with power and deliberately arrange everyone’s meetings in the rooms furthest from everyone. But IF that had happened then it would be like a lot like how meeting are arranged now. But it hasn’t, meeting room people are loverly, please arrange my meetings in nice places, I love you, sorry.

Lastly, admin. I had naively assumed that admin paperwork being paper based could be done either electronically or through the mail. Sadly, admin operates on its own logic and it’s amazing how many forms need to be hand delivered or signed in person.

All of these combined means that on a fairly normal lab day I get over 10,000 steps and walk about 8 km.That is about 9 thousand more steps than I was led to believe before I chose to be a researcher. It’s also about 8 thousand more steps than would be required if I stopped going to meetings, admin accepted electronic documents and everyone left my stuff where it should be!!

While my lazy younger self probably looked forward to a sedentary research experience, I suppose I am glad research turned out to be more athletic.Besides, trips out of the lab give me time and excuse to go buy cheese mould based snacks.

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Simon Leather · 22 January 2020 at 14:03

Ah it keeps you fit- my office, 500 m from staff common room, Lab 1000 m from Office 🙂 Teaching rooms 450 m from office. As an aged absent-minded Professor there is a lot of forgetting things and having to rush back to the office 🙂

    Matthew (@MCeeP) · 28 January 2020 at 13:47

    Thanks to going almost entirely paperless last year I now mange to get almost everything into one rucksack. Works great right up until there’s an IT problem (there’s always an IT problem)

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