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How to Be The Lab Bastard

Posted in: Dealing with Fellow Scientists
How to Be The Lab Bastard

We all know them. You might even be one. The Lab Bastard is the one who considers himself (or herself!) superior to all other mere mortals in the lab. He would never degrade his talent by doing communal jobs in the lab, but swans around, absolutely sure that his experiments are most important and his results will be the most groundbreaking.

Above all, The Lab Bastard never misses an opportunity to claw his way to the top and doesn’t mind who he tramples on along the way.

I hope you don’t want to be The Lab Bastard. But in case you do, here are some useful tips:

When starting in a new lab, establish your superior credentials:

1) Never miss an opportunity to say how thing were done much better in your previous lab/your country.

2) Do a bit of namedropping; it always helps to impress the poor no-hopers you work with.

3) Declare equipment, supplies and methods that your colleagues use as outdated and insufficient for your needs. Order a lot of new stuff immediately, or even better, tell a technician do it for you.

Ensure that your talents are not wasted on menial tasks. Put technicians and your other colleagues in their rightful place as servants who are lucky to have a bit part to play in your journey to brilliance:

4) Make a point of never ordering ANYTHING. Ensure that no matter how small the order is, you pass it off to someone else to do it for you.

5) Never do any lab jobs – defrosting the freezer, cleaning the water bath, etc. It distracts you from doing experiments and there is always a backup freezer/another water bath, when they break because of the lack of maintenance.

6) If you finish a communal solution, be happy that there was enough left for you. You either won’t need it for a while, or, if it is widely used, somebody else will have to make it very soon.

7) Feel free to take stuff from other people’s benches. They have plenty of it or are not using it at the moment and you are working so much, you don’t have time to prepare or order this in advance.

Help No-one:

8) Never volunteer to help anybody and never share your things, this will diminish your resources in exchange for a hazy possibility that people will pay you back in kind. They never do, you know, because you don’t.

Claim your rightful credit:

9) Always ensure that you talk loudest in lab meetings – if you can talk over others, then so much the better. When you are making your razor sharp observations, be sure to keep eye contact with the boss at all times to ensure that your brilliance is noted.

10) A caveat to number 8: There is a time to volunteer to help people, and that is when they are close to publishing. At this point, use all of your skills and influence to secure the opportunity to do a (preferably very small) piece of work for the prospective author, then push like hell to be added as a co-author.

If you’ve got any additional suggestions, please add them in the comments, and I will include them in my forthcoming book, “The Lab Bastard for Dummies”.  Your input will be used, but not acknowledged. But hey, isn’t that what you’d expect?

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  1. LizRo24 on July 19, 2012 at 7:23 pm

    Hahaha! It seems everyone in my lab is vying for this position! Being one of the two technicians in a lab with 6+ Lab Bastards is not an easy task!

  2. patientgrl on July 5, 2012 at 6:29 pm


  3. micronaut on July 3, 2012 at 12:45 pm

    I worked with a guy like that once. When his post doc ended he took his remaining holiday and vanished without telling anybody. His last “experiment” was left half-finished on the bench. Nobody ever saw him again (thankfully).

    Ironically, this lab bastard didn’t do anything at all during his term other than break stuff and mess up his experiments. However, he managed to do the minimum menial task for other people (like collecting cells for MS), that meant he could piggy-back onto of all the lab’s publications. Utterly useless, yet the most published.

    There is no “i” in team, but there is in winner.

  4. Martin on July 3, 2012 at 12:21 pm

    Brilliant article Vicki! How come I seem to have worked with more than my fair share of these people? One of the labs I worked in had an invisible lab bastard- communal solutions would always mysteriously empty by themselves and your pipettes would disappear from your desk into thin air 😉

    • Vicki Doronina on July 4, 2012 at 10:47 am

      Thanks, Martin. (Trying not to be a bastard), I must say that my first draft had been greatly improved by Nick’s and Emily’s editing.

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