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Working late nights or weekends in the lab—we’ve all been there. Why isn’t your cell culture considerate enough to get to exponential phase during normal business hours, anyway? Maybe you just need utter peace and quiet while you pipette hundreds of wells worth of stinky beta-mercaptoethanol. Or perhaps you’re using your wealth of microbiology knowledge to properly clean the lab fridge on a Saturday in the hopes of isolating novel pathogens while preventing a worldwide epidemic on the order of World War Z.
Regardless of the reason, sometimes science just needs to happen during inconvenient hours. In this article we’ll teach you to be efficient and stealthy during odd hours in the lab, like a science ninja!
Struggle: Odd Growth Curve Profiles and Unpredictable Assays
Some cell lines and assays are like helpless newborns, requiring tender care and check-ins every hour. But that doesn’t mean you need to stay glued to the plate reader! To prevent giving the evening cleaning crew a heart attack, keep the sleeping cot at home.
Solution: To really up your game, check out the latest and greatest technology, like Tecan’s Spark® Cyto. Beyond offering full environmental control and up to 384-well readouts, this plate reader is the first one of its kind that can automatically execute kinetic experiments. This isn’t your grandma’s plate reader!
Struggle: Laborious, Tedious, and Repetitive Tasks
No matter how much of a future Nobel prize-winning genius you may be, there are still experiments that require meticulous and repeated pipetting. After all, those hundreds of tubes’ worth of competent cells aren’t going to divvy themselves up!
Solution: To increase efficiency, consider using multi-channel pipettes. For even bigger jobs, find liquid handlers or other high throughput technologies like the Tecan Fluent. Besides looking like a lab superhero, you’ll save your thumb and shoulder from permanent injury!
Struggle: That 12th Failed Experiment in a Row
Experiments fail, even when they have previously gone off without a hitch. Sometimes there is no apparent reason for that wonky gel or that blasted PCR that refuses to work. Inconsistent results cause one of two reactions: 1) a panic-driven mania where you have to repeat it, or 2) curling up into a ball for a prolonged period of time before proceeding to #1.
Solution: Before jumping off the science train, ensure experiments are designed carefully with lots of consistency. Get feedback from a trusted colleague to brainstorm what could be going awry. When all else fails, avoid perfectionism and learn when to call it quits!
Struggle: Funky Lab Culture… Not the Microbiological Kind!
Dealing with a difficult group culture is something that even your years of biology training cannot prepare you for. From the super-introverted grad student to the overbearing lab manager, different personalities can clash in unintended ways.
Solution: Like a proton, be a positive force in the lab and teach by example. Whenever possible, foster lab cooperation or encourage coffee breaks with your group. If there are serious issues that cause relentless tension or counterproductivity, bring it up to your supervisor so that they can take appropriate action.
Struggle: Crunch Time!!!
Sometimes, you just need that data by tomorrow. The PI needs the latest and greatest results for the grant that’s due! Your thesis needs to be submitted in one week! Your mom wants to know if E. coli protein expression is improved with that new promoter you engineered!
Solution: Don’t be afraid to ask for help! Ask a colleague for extra hands. If your advisor repeatedly presses you for data last-minute, work to improve communication. Pump up your productivity with these tips, and learn to say no when you need space.
No matter how many times you have to re-run that assay… you have still mustered enough grit to get work done on a Sunday! Be proud of yourself for being a rockstar scientist. Remember to take breaks, and try to enjoy some time outside of the lab when you can. The science gods will smile upon you for your devotion.