Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Lab Zen

There are two basic kinds of lab work, wait, no, make that four, and some are more desirable more than others.

There is the tedious work, such as analyzing samples. If I am running flow cytometry, all I do is take my prepared samples, hook them up to the machine, and hit start. I get maybe two to five minutes of run time before enough is collected and then I repeat with the next tube. I can’t do anything but stare at a computer screen and wait. Even the down time between samples is not enough to do anything significant. It get, well, boring.

There is the work that takes just enough brain power that I have to pay attention to what I am doing but the work itself is repetitive and stressful. When I have to hold a mouse with one hand in a scruff while treating or measuring a tumor. The mouse squirms and I really have to focus on not letting that mouse move to get everything just right. Or I am pipetting samples into a 96-well plate where each well has something different in it and I cannot cross contaminate anything or I will lose the whole experiment. This work is taxing and stressful; it doesn’t tease the curious brain cells, but does require focus whether or not it is interesting.

Then there is the work that requires massive amounts of brain power. I have to set up an experiment, calculate cells and titrate dyes while making sure nothing gets cross contaminated. Or I am trying to understand results that are just not making sense and all the possible why’s are running through my brain.

Finally, there is the work that is repetitive but not stressful. I get into a rhythm as just enough of my brain stays around to make sure I do not cross contaminate anything but otherwise it gets to wonder. There is usually a phase of random thoughts, which leads into a battle with my inner demons, which can be fairly stressful and self-destructive, but once that passes my brain finally relaxes and is blissfully peaceful. No stray thoughts, no what ifs, no doubt, just simple peace.

That is my favorite kind of work, the work that leads to lab zen.

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