Let’s face it, at least once in your lab life you are going to need a favor. You may need to go on vacation, you may be sick or you may just be a little overwhelmed at the bench. At least once, you will need to ask for a little help and someone will surely ask you for it as well.

So, what do you do when someone asks you for a favor in the lab?

  • Get all the details. It is incredibly important to get as much information about what the asker needs, as they may not be able to answer questions when you begin the task. There’s nothing worse than being halfway through a protocol only to not be clear on the next step and accidentally discard a supernatant you needed to keep or over-incubate a reaction. Make sure you get the nitty-gritty in writing (or through e-mail!) so you have a source to refer to. Don’t try to remember all the information and risk making a simple error. Their research is just as important as yours!
  • Balancing act. Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to complete both your work and the favor requested by your fellow lab mate. It may seem like a daunting task, but it’s all about time management. Making a schedule to help plan out your day is key to being productive with your time. Overestimate the time it may take you to do each task, so you’re not surprised if you are stumbling through an unfamiliar protocol while helping your lab mate. It may even be helpful to lay out all your reagents in advance or make any stock solutions ahead of time. So, you don’t run around the lab wasting time looking for them. A few minutes saved can be helpful when you are working for two!
  • What if it’s too much? Do not be afraid to say no if you really can’t handle the request. Everyone is busy and if you can’t give your lab mate’s task as much attention as they would, it may be best to step back and say you can’t help this time. Just be sure to tell them that before they leave, so they can make other arrangements and they’re not surprised when they return!

What if you need a favor with lab work?

  • Be sure to have the right attitude. Do not assume your lab mate has the free time to help you out. Ask only if you really need it. It’s generally not acceptable to ask your co-worker to do a long or complicated experiment while you are away, particularly if they are also fairly busy. But asking to feed or passage your cells is a totally fine request.
  • Be detailed! I cannot stress this enough – be as detailed as humanly possible. Your communication is the key to success. Even write down locations of reagents, so they won’t have to spend time searching the lab for that weird chemical no one else uses. You want to inconvenience your lab mate as little as possible.
  • Be prepared for failure. Even if your co-worker executes everything perfectly, science happens. Don’t blame the person who was kind enough to help you. Remember that they took the time to do your work. It is best to have a fallback plan in case something goes awry! Having back-up cell stocks or extra DNA or whatever you might need is a good idea if possible, just in case something needs to be repeated.
  • Be prepared to return the favor! Remember, everyone needs a little help sometimes and the person you ask is likely to ask you to return the favor!

It is always helpful when dealing with lab favors to remember that your lab mate’s research is just as important as your own. The favors game is all about courtesy. Be kind to your lab mates, and they will more than likely be willing to lend a hand if you’re in a bind.

Do you have any more tips or tricks to dealing with favors in the lab? Let us know in the comments below.

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One Comment

  1. I’m a morning person. Back when I was a grad student I was in lab by 7 am. Had a benchmate who didn’t arrive until noon. We helped each other out constantly – I starter her cultures, she developed my autorads. It was an incredibly productive partnership. We were organized enough that the ‘favors’ were routine tasks, but it allowed each of us to get more done in a day.

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