The Top Three Tips for Lab Etiquette

January 18, 2016 Lauren Sakowski

Is your lab full of undergraduates, graduate students doing rotations, or a new technician? Even if everyone has been around for a while, there is never a bad time to teach good habits and etiquette in a lab environment. Whether someone is new to lab work period or just new to your lab, they need to receive the proper training.

Before anyone gets started, it is important to be sure that they know the top three tips for lab etiquette for the benefit of everyone’s safety and sanity.

1. Dust off your label-maker

The difference between a pleasant lab experience and a chaotic one is organization. Searching through an entire freezer for one small tube of enzyme is a challenge, but it’s even worse when labels aren’t descriptive. Is it in the box that is simply labeled ‘Protein Stuff,’ or is it one of the tubes in the unlabeled plastic bag?

If you have freezers full of racks upon racks of boxes, you will need a good system to keep everything straight. Start a spreadsheet, and keep track of what is in each box. Keep the spreadsheet up to date. When you graduate or get a new job, the rest of the lab will thank you for your organization.

2. Never stop talking—really!

If you need something, let someone know. Is there only one box of gloves left in storage? Did someone knock on the door to the dark room and you have an entire box of film that might get exposed? These are excellent times to speak up. No one else knows what you need unless you say something.

3. Clean your room! Err… your bench space

Nobody likes to take time away from experiments for mundane tasks, but failure to keep up with these can be a major source of stress and become a safety issue. Maybe the person using the balance before you was in a hurry and did not clean up properly. Is that paraformaldehyde powder or something innocuous? Who left immersion oil on that $12,000 objective lens? Now, you can’t get that last image that will complete a paper or your thesis. Did you clean up all that buffer you spilled by walking across the lab with a gel box?

You don’t want to be stuck without the ability to complete an experiment when you need to, and you DEFINITELY don’t want to be the person who holds everyone else up. Honest mistakes and forgetfulness happen from time to time, but it’s important to be mindful of what you do and how it affects everyone else.

If new lab members can learn how to be good lab citizens from the beginning, everyone will be much safer and happier. People who are new to the lab, be ready to learn the ins and outs that make research happen. Seasoned veterans, do your best to impart your wisdom in a friendly and respectful way.

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