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How to Leave the Lab in the Lab

Let’s face it, when you leave the lab for the day, your mind is still racing with ideas and questions about your experiment: how to fix this or what went wrong or what does this data point even mean. It can be difficult to actually shut down and decompress when you walk out of the lab!

Here I have outlined a few personal tips for how to actually leave the lab in the lab.

Find a Distraction

For me, the best thing I have done to get my mind off lab work and in the moment is finding a new hobby to occupy my brain with. For me, it is dancing tango. But it could really be anything! You could draw, dance, sing, cook, do acrobatics, whatever floats your boat!

A new hobby is a great distraction because your brain is completely focused on learning something new. Personally, I am always excited to learn something new and, when I pick something new up, I get completely caught up in it. Having interests outside of the laboratory is important, so you can escape every once in a while! Just make sure when you get back to the lab, you focus on the bench!

Set a Goal

If you don’t have time (or money!) to pick up another hobby, setting some kind of goal or challenge for yourself can be just as good of a distraction. This could mean it’s time to go back to the gym and beat your last lift record or to break out that difficult recipe you’ve always wanted to try. It could even be just trying to beat the next level in your latest video game. Anything goes as long as it isn’t lab related! I find that when I am focused on achieving something I spend more time thinking about that and not that bad western blot transfer!

Time Out

It seems like most labs are awfully devoid of natural sunlight. Therefore, it’s great to get out in nature and take it all in. Sometimes when we are so caught up in work and stressed, we forget to take a moment for ourselves. I recommend taking a walk in a park or around the block and taking in the sights. Even take a quiet moment to meditate while you’re out there. A change of scenery can help you decompress and forget about what you could do to make your next gel run cleaner.

Turn off Your Email Notifications When You Leave the Lab!

With smartphones today, most of us are compulsively checking email or are nose deep in social media. Cut it out! Don’t worry about your email. Give yourself a night off every once in a while. Unless you’re working on something very time sensitive, chances are that email can wait until morning. You can’t disconnect from the bench if you are constantly responding to emails about troubleshooting and grants.

“Treat Yo’ Self”

This is particularly helpful if you’ve had a rough day. Indulge in a little treat to brighten your mood. Have that ice cream, go see that new movie, or try that new restaurant down the block. I find that a little indulgence can help get my mind off of that tube that melted in the PCR thermocycler.

In my experience, the key to actually leaving the lab, mentally, is to focus on something else completely unrelated to your bench work or your manuscript. A change of gears can even be good and help you return to your work with a fresh mindset, which can even help you find a solution to whatever problem you left behind.

What are some of your tips and tricks leave the lab? Comment below!

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