I have been fortunate enough that in my career to date I have rarely experienced the problem of other people stealing my reagents. However, one PI told me of her experiences working in a US laboratory where things had got so bad people brought their reagents home at the weekends! Working in a research laboratory can be stressful, and one should avoid adding the element of mistrust and paranoia. Reagents do go missing, although it often occurs in an unintentional or non-malicious manner. The following are a few pointers on how to avoid this problem while maintaining a friendly and amicable work environment.
1. Label, Label, Label
Make sure all your reagents are labelled in a clear manner with your name or initials, the name of your group, the date it was opened or made, etc. This will cut down on colleagues from other groups mistakenly taking reagents, thinking they belong to their research group.
2. Clearly mark speciality/precious reagents
Label important reagents with their use. For example, I worked in a lab where a fluorescently-labelled molecular weight marker was used up by colleagues who thought it was for general western blotting.
3. Store in an appropriate manner
For expensive reagents that aren’t intended for general use, keep them in a secure location. Don’t leave important room-temperature items out on the bench – keep them in a press. For items that require refrigeration or storage in -20°C or -80°C freezers, store them in a lockable freezer. Locks can be installed quite cheaply.
4. Share your reagents, but protect them at the same time
If a colleague requests to take some of a precious buffer for an experiment, offer to aliquot it out for them. This way you can maintain the necessary sterility or composition while still doing a colleague a favour.
5. Broach the issue in a strategic manner
Don’t accuse a colleague outright of stealing your reagents unless you have firm evidence or have caught them in the act. Speak to your PI and/or lab manager first and make them aware of what is going on. Often simply by bringing the issue in up in a lab meeting without directly pointing the finger will nip it in the bud. If this doesn’t work, then work with your PI and or lab manager to resolve the situation.
At the end of the day, stealing other peoples’ reagents is bad lab etiquette and simply wrong. On the flip side, it’s good to trust people and give them the benefit of the doubt.
What are your tips for keeping track of your important reagents?