10 Life Hacks For A Happier Lab Experience

When your Western blot looks more like abstract art, or unlabeled reagents have you scratching your head, never fear—look to these benchwork hacks!

  1. Know thy vendor

    If scientists are superheroes, then vendors are our sidekicks. Or is it the other way around?

    Anyway, every time something runs out in the lab, we scramble to contact them for a quote. It makes sense, then, that we cultivate a good working relationship with them. Not only does this encourage the occasional discount, but you’ll also be the first in line for freebies when they host a roadshow or happy hour at your institute!

    And I don’t mean just free sample reagents. Free donuts, bubble tea and ice cream are just some of the sweet treats that might come along with simply showing up at a vendor’s booth.

  2. Grow a second pair of hands

    No, by this I don’t mean tinker with your homeobox genes. I mean train your undergraduate intern. From personal experience, interns work best when they specialize in a skill set, be it qPCR, Western blotting or histology. Invest a week or two in his or her training and they’ll be churning out data for you while you busy yourself with, well, churning out other data.

    Be forewarned, though. Intern caliber has a really large standard deviation.

  3. Riddle me this

    Most of us know that feeling of butterflies in the stomach just before a presentation, be it at a lab meeting or a qualifying examination. If you’ve done your homework, then you’ll know the content of the presentation better than anyone else in the room, which means you’re in a position to pull off some sleight of hand.

    Present the main findings thoroughly, but hold back a little on some supplementary information or methodology. This way, your audience will be subliminally prompted to ask you about these details. That’s when you pull out the hidden PowerPoint slide. Thanks for asking!

  4. Time it right

    Maybe your colleague is telling you about his pet hamster and you’re just not that interested. Or perhaps you’re getting interrogated by an over-enthusiastic intern about your project.

    For times when you wish the conversation would just end, have a timer in your lab coat or pants pocket set at one minute. Tacitly hit the countdown button and maintain eye contact until the timer goes off. When that happens, describe a legitimate-sounding experiment that you have to tend to and get out of there!

  5. Fly away

    I mean this quite literally—plan an overseas conference trip! You’re going there for work, of course, so the school or your professor’s grant is paying. Prepare your poster or oral presentation, book your flight and accommodation, and pack your bags.

    Go where, you ask? Well, find a holiday destination on your bucket list that happens to be hosting a relevant conference. That’s the sweet spot. At least the air ticket cost is taken care of.

After all that’s been said and done, don’t just take it from me—try out some of these hacks yourself and see if you smile more on your scientific journey.

This article is from a monthly column called Hacking a PhD. Click here to see the other articles in this series.


Copyright: Asian Scientist Magazine; Photo: Shutterstock.
Disclaimer: This article does not necessarily reflect the views of AsianScientist or its staff.

Jeremy received his PhD from Nanyang Technological University, Singapore, where he studied the role of the tumor microenvironment in cancer progression.

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