Coffee is great stuff. It’s tasty (well I like it) and it can keep you going through long days and nights in the lab. But this article is not about using the chemical effects of coffee to your advantage. It’s about ways in which you can use the habitual and social side of a nice cup of coffee, or whatever your favorite beverage is, to your advantage in the lab.

Here are 5 ways in which you can use coffee to…

1. Insert thinking time into your day

Taking time out to let your thoughts drift each day will make you happier, more productive and more likely to solve the complex scientific problems you are tackling every day (get more info on this here).

But getting into the habit of taking time out can be difficult. Most of us hare into work, get started straight away and don’t really stop for breath until it’s time to go home. But luckily, one of the many ways to start a new, good habit is to tack it onto an old one.

So if you have the habit of gulping down a morning and and afternoon coffee while you work, make it a rule that you convert that habit to stopping work, sitting down in a quiet place and relaxing while you have your coffee, allowing your brain some time to wander.

2. Get into the habit of reading more

Reading every day is an essential part of the job, but, again, it’s not always easy to fit it in to your busy day. Instead of converting your coffee break to a brain-wandering session, you could make switching the kettle (or coffee machine) on a trigger for your daily reading session.

3. Let off steam (or just make friends)

Like many people who frequent Bitesize Bio, my PhD was tough. And I needed to vent — mostly about my supervisor — a lot. A special mention in my thesis acknowledgements went to the “Morning Coffee Support Group”, without whom I may never have made it (ok, I’m exaggerating a bit). The morning coffee support group was a group of PhD students from around our building who met most mornings for a coffee and a chat and a communal moan about our lots. The key to meeting regularly was that we all had coffee habits to support. Whether your need is to make friends, vent or just have a nice chat, why not start your own morning coffee group?

4. Build cohesion in your group

Coffee is a remarkably effective tool for building cohesion in your lab group. Setting up a tradition that each group member takes turns to make coffee for the whole group when it’s lab meeting time will give each person the chance to be nice to the whole group. Lovely — but also important for bonding. And if you’re a group leader, buying coffee for the whole lab now and then is a relatively inexpensive way to show your appreciation of your group.

5. Build your network

One of the secrets of networking at a conference to find the people you want to network with, break the ice with a little conversation then cement the relationship by arranging to meet later for a more in-depth chat. And what’s the best, least-threatening way to arrange to chat later? You’ve guessed it — invite your potential network member to meet later for coffee. Actually, here in Scotland a beer would probably work better, but I did say you could substitute in your own favorite beverage. Click here for more information on networking strategies.

Of course, many of these ideas are mutually exclusive (either that or you are going to be drinking A LOT of coffee!) but I hope they’ve given you some food (or drink) for thought.

How has coffee helped you in your career? 😉