Lessons from the laboratory: 5 tips for a successful move

It’s moving time in the lab. As in pack every little possible lab and office thing into a box, try not to break the mass-spec,  wrap all the fragile things (and accidentally yourself) in bubblewrap, re-label all the acids (and then label them again because safety first), dig up things you never even knew existed (do we really need all this melted tubing and why do we still have a lab coat from 1999?), organize thousands of samples (and then pack those too), move all the things 1.2 miles down the road to the giant new beautiful monstrosity of a building called SEEC, and then UNPACK EVERYTHING.

Moving is the worst. Okay, so not worse or more terrifying or seriously more worrisome than just the mere thought of Trump possibly becoming president…but you catch my drift. No one likes to move. It’s stressful. It’s tiresome. It’s tedious. But sometimes is necessary–like when you have a sparkly new lab waiting for you in a glorious giant new research building on campus. Now, imagine being a scientist trying to move your most precious possessions/life’s work (i.e. lab equipment, samples, papers, field equipment, perfect desk chair…) to a new place. It’s total [organized] chaos.

So, because most of you have at least the teeniest experience with moving some important part of your life (college futons don’t just move themselves) and because even less of you are experienced scientific movers (you care about this stuff, right?), I present:

Lessons from the laboratory: 5 tips for a successful move

1. Use all the bubble wrap

Our “official” orders were that every single piece of glassware and fancy-spancy equipment should be wrapped at least twice. But you should probably add 50 more wraps just to be safe, right? And then you should obviously steal some just for your own damn pleasure because you’ll need to relieve some stress after packing for the eighth hour of the day (and if you don’t know what I’m talking about, you clearly didn’t have a very enjoyable childhood).

2. Label all the things

Unless you want a migraine to end all migraines when you get to your brand-spanking-new lab, LABEL EVERYTHING. And then label it again. Label the outside of boxes. Label bags in boxes. Hell, label the boxes you’re putting in the bigger boxes. Just label everything. Label yourself if you have to (especially when you start losing it after having to to make the sixteenth trip out of the clean lab to get even more bubble wrap to wrap your precious things in).

3. Don’t know what an item is? Better pack it


These are probably important

Melted pieces of tubing leftover from some long ago experimental lab set-up? Screws to some long-lost part? Samples from the 70s that are labeled with nothing but a name? Manuals for now can’t be found machines? You never know when you might need those again (or when your advisor or former student will come looking for them sometime in the near future). Better safe than sorry. And I don’t want to be sorry. All these random things are probably super important, right?

4. Don’t touch the expensive thing. Leave that for the pros

Thought warming up/maintaining a mass spectrometer was hard?–you know nothing, Jon Snow. Decomissioning a mass spectrometer is vital to said mass spectrometers survival through even a short travel down any road. Take a piece off and you better make damn sure you memorize what that piece looks like and where it goes. And when you get to the magnet, you better have a serious game plan (like watching your advisor spend an entire workday planning how the movers are going to simply slide the magnet out of the machine without catastrophic failure). Graduate school stipends won’t cover the “oops, I just broke the mass spec.” So, leave all the expensive, super-breakable things for the pros (aka advisors).


Fabulous Dexter

5. Do daydream about merriments in your new lab

It may be the only way you get through the packing pains. Just pretend that absolutely nothing will go wrong (it will), that everything will arrive in perfect in perfect condition (it won’t), that nothing will get lost (you think it won’t, but…), that removing said magnet above will go flawlessly (please, please do), and that everything you just packed will magically find its way to its perfect home in the new lab (it most certainly will not). Dream about all the happy lab days, crushing, cleaning and dissolving forams (or maybe even dancing when no ones around), you will have once you’re all settled in the new space. Just think happy thoughts–like Fabulous Dexter in his fancy laboratory to the left.





Techno in the lab

Anyone who has any sort of experience with the necessity to focus for long periods of time knows just how important ear candy can be for productivity. Some people enjoy a big fat dish of silence, others can’t get enough of the latest and greatest book on tape, while many, many of us prefer one flavor or another of beautifully (or not so beautifully) constructed tunage. Ear candy has gotten many of us through lots of moments in our lives, and it certainly is getting me through the next phase of mine: lab work.


the face of an exhausted undergrad hiding in a library cage (yes, a literal cage)

I’ve graduated from my undergraduate years of hiding away in the library blasting movie soundtracks from Finding Nemo to the glorious wizarding world of Harry Potter so that I could, for lack of better words, get shit done. And while I’m still not ready to let go of those tunes just yet (graduate school does require times of epic concentration comparable to cramming the information from a semester of 5 classes into your brain in the two days you have to prepare for finals), lab work requires the kind of ear candy that brings a little more excitement to my day.

If you’ve never done tedious microscope work or really any kind of tedious lab work, well, it’s a hard thing for me to describe. Not only do you need to brace your eyeballs or pipetting fingers for some serious exhaustion, but you also need to prepare a delicious plate of gourmet ear candy (so that you don’t go insane scanning little box by little box for the teeny tiny little object you’re interested in counting/finding/collecting… or pipetting acids into other acids holding the samples you’ve already dissolved in acid).

brain-training-1Which finally brings me to my title: Techno in the lab. It all started in undergrad, where a graduate student working in the same lab as me would pump some fantastic club music from the makeshift lab speakers. At first it was weird; I had always worked out to that kind of music (trust me, nothing gets me through a horrible run better than some seizure inducing beats), so I always felt like I was about to break out in a serious sweat. But lately, it’s really been growing on me. Being in the lab is like a workout for the brain; seriously, it takes some serious brain power to not drop something you shouldn’t (like HF, don’t drop HF) or to transfer one tiny little foram from a giant vial of forams to a slide of a smaller amount of forams. You have to pump yourself up for an extended period of time of doing shit, and for me, I’ve found that techno and other super-upbeat music (like some crazy wonderful Miike Snow) are fantastic for that. focus Focus FOCUS!!!

I know, I know. Techno is not for everyone (especially my mother… HI MOM!), but I think we all have that one brand of ear candy that can get us excited for a day in the lab, or for all you regular people, a day in the cube farm. We all have to find ways to focus (because we all need to get shit done), and ear candy is a damn good way to do it.

And you should consider yourself lucky if you catch me in that lab dancing from fume hood to fume hood. #earcandy (???)