Working in a laboratory, whether it’s a chemistry, medical, biological or geological lab, can be quite a rewarding and fulfilling career. Not only does it mean pursuing a profession in the veryfield that you’ve found your personal calling in, it also means clocking in every single day with the knowledge that you’re contributing something to the world at large. Essentially, working in a laboratory means you’re doing something that will be of benefit to others.
That said, it’s not all fun and games inside a lab. Just like with any other workplace, a laboratory offers unique challenges to lab workers, technicians, and scientists that call it their daily office. Failing to address these challenges adequately can lead tolost time and waste of financial resources—and sometimes, even health issues or injuries. So, if you’re someone who’s lucky enough to work in an actual lab, you’d better make sure that you’re prepared to tackle daily obstacles head on. In this article, we’ll introduce you to some of them.
Dealing with complicated, high-precision lab equipment
Any laboratory worth is salt is going to have its own share of high-tech lab equipment. These expensive and potentially complicated pieces of machinery are essential to any laboratory setting, as they provide lab personnel the accuracy and reliability that their experiments or tests require. Without them, it’d be quitechallenging for anyone working in a lab to get even a single experiment done properly, much less get the empirically based results they need. These include centrifuges, thermal cyclers, environmental chambers, sequencing instruments, bioreactors, liquid handling machines with precision stages, and many more.
Allowing the principal investigator (PI) to take all the credit
In a laboratory setting, the principal investigator is essentially the boss of the operation, i.e.the entire reason the laboratory is in business in the first place. Strictly speaking, the principal investigator is responsible for the preparation, administration, and performance of the research grant or the private/public service project that the laboratory is being used for.
What does this mean? Simply put, whatever discoveries or breakthroughs are found in the laboratory that the principal investigator presides over is credited immediately to that individual. It doesn’t matter who among the laboratory staff found it, it’s still credited to the principal investigator, whether the discovery was made by the lowest rank-and-file lab employee or the most senior technician.
Obviously, laboratory staff may find this completely unfair and galling, as somebody else is taking credit for their long hours of work, no matter how significant their contribution to the research effort or project. This could have a detrimental effect on their confidence, which in turn could seriously impact their work performance and productivity.
Managing an unpredictable schedule
Besides having to deal with delicate and expensive equipment, as well as glory-hound principal investigators, laboratory professionals also have to contend with being at the mercy of their experiments’ unpredictable timetables. The success of many experiments—no matter the field of study—often depend onconstant, round-the-clockmonitoring for long periods of time, or being present at a certain window of opportunity. A specific star being studied may only be visible via telescope during a specific time of night, for one. Certain petri dish samples may also need constant monitoring— otherwise the culture could die, which would then necessitate a costly do-over.
These variables and more make it challenging for a laboratory professional to keep any semblance of a regular schedule. This could then impact their personal and social lives, not to mention their stress levels and general health.
Handling dangerous machinery, chemicals, and biological specimens
Depending on the field of study or science they’re working in, a laboratory professional may also be required to handle equipment, substances, and even live animals or biological specimens that could prove to be dangerous if mishandled. These can include any of the following: radioactive or high-voltage equipment, venomous animals, corrosive substances, infectious agents, and more. Without the proper training to handle these things, as well as the right protective gear, a lab worker may find themselves on the receiving end of grievous injuries or worse.
Being patient with your work
Movies, television shows, and other forms of entertainment media have exposed everyone to the common trope of a scientist suddenly grabbing their printouts and then running for their immediate superior, shrieking all the while about how they’ve found the breakthrough of the century and with seemingly no effort or rush at all. While it’s clearly obvious that actual, factual science does take time, some laboratory personnel may find it difficult to manage their expectations with their work due to this false media conditioning, and thus get disgruntled or unduly stressed.
Working in a laboratory isn’t as easy as anyone thinks
A laboratory job may seem like a comfortable and even relaxed occupation, but don’t be fooled—it can be just as stressfulas any other profession, and it can even be hazardous to your health and wellbeing.
However, the fact remains that being a laboratory professional is still a rewarding and fulfilling one, simply because the work is largely for the benefit of mankind or even the environment. So, if you’re about to become a lab jockey yourself, then think of the above-mentioned challenges as simply obstacles to hop over your way, and not as insurmountable walls blocking your path. The world needs your valuable contributions, and you shouldn’t let simple annoyances hinder you, no matter how daunting they may seem at first.