Lab family

I was just reading an exchange on Twitter about the pitfalls of shared lab equipment. Often expensive, complex setups – an ephys rig, an imaging system – are shared among many people in the lab. It is a truth universally acknowledged that often one person postdoc is either formally or informally in charge of it due to most frequent use or expertise.

I work in a lab where “getting in trouble” with the PI is something some of the grad students worry about. Legitimately or not, I’m not sure. I don’t have this kind of relationship with the PI and neither do the other postdocs, but who knows. Mostly it’s in their heads, though I figure if you act like a child you will probably be treated like one.

As a result, as the de facto cop on some expensive equipment, I was often in the position of being the one who got them in trouble. And some of them resented me for this, as if we are all supposed to be in this together against the PI. Sometimes yes, sometimes no. I don’t want my shit fucked up is all! I swear, some students seem happy when something is broken because they get out of working. This boggles my mind. Why. The. Fuck. Are. You. In. Grad. School?

Here’s a key twitterverse exchange between PLS and IBAM.

image

For the PI, it’s great. You’re having your 11am scotch in your arm chair, trying to decide if you can pull off sideburns, and the kids come running up pointing at each other and you pretend to listen and wonder why the mom/wife/postdoc isn’t handling this shit on their own (I kid the PIs! Luv u guyz 4 reals). For the postdoc, it’s a little stressful and requires tattling and being a mom to grown ups. But, yes, this is part of a postdoc’s role and an important part of their training. But a couple years ago, I just gave up. Being a tattle-tale sucks. It’s not worth the drama. As far as the PI knew, everyone was using shit responsibly and properly, and I had an extra half hour or hour a week of cleaning, reassembling, repairing. But I knew the system would work and I didn’t  have to do any personality management. A fair trade. I felt like I only had time for things that made my life easier, and being the fucking hall monitor did not.

Anyway, my new observation is this: at some point, they started noticing me cleaning up after them and constantly reorganizing the system. And started asking me to show them what I was doing (and why) before, during, and after experiments (things they had no interest/attention for when I was actually trying to either teach them or complaining about to the PI). And it’s gotten better slowly but steadily. I’m not sure what the lesson is here.

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4 Comments on “Lab family”

  1. Dr Becca says:

    Part of the deal when I was negotiating my startup was that I got executive control over one of these fancy shared pieces of equipment, and a tech to manage the thing. Seriously one of the best things I could have done for myself. Now, where’d I put my scotch?

  2. miko says:

    That’s wicked smaht. My biggest fear (besides never getting shortlisted or never getting an offer or not being able to solve 2-body problem) is that if someone offers me a TT job I will collapse into a puddle of tears at their feet and not ask for anything.

    Hopefully this is something I will have to prepare for…

  3. Yeah I still don’t know which approach is the best: talking to the PI or just sucking it up and repairing stuff after other people have used it. I’m mostly annoyed because when I interviewed here I asked about sharing rigs and PI then told me that we each got our own. Which was the case until he hired a boatload of new people…

  4. miko says:

    That is super annoying if you were promised your own rig. I’ve tried to schedule things so I have the imaging system for consecutive days in a row and no one else does. Then I retreat into analysis, writing, etc. while the kids trash it. At least then you don’t have to go through daily repairs and maintenance.


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