Can’t quite wake up on a Monday morning? The best thing you can do for your research is avoid the lab. Seriously. Just go out for a coffee or sit in front of the computer and catch up on your literature-searching. Better yet, just spend the day in bed. It can save you months of work and spare you substantial mental anguish.
I know this because I’ve worked in research long enough to have experienced it firsthand. Repeatedly.
Most recently was Monday morning when the network went down. The lab filled with many dazed and confused people who would usually be compiling data from the previous week or undertaking the calculations for the coming week. Without access to the network there was nothing to do but start lab work.
An office-bound manager may have looked through the glass wall at everyone in the lab and think it was the most productive day EVER. But it was actually a very distressing morning of things just going wrong. And for no reason except that the natural order of things is coffee THEN lab work. Some laws must not be broken.
Similarly, Friday afternoon is never a good time to start any sort of lab work. Failure is not necessarily guaranteed but chances of success fall to well below the 5% mark. Not a good time to deal with any critical samples.
Scientific instruments are also acutely aware of labour regulations on a Friday afternoon and usually start evoking their rights just after you’ve prepped all your samples. If you’re not going to work over the weekend, neither are they.
That’s even before we start considering user error. It must be noted that users do become increasingly stupid as the clock ticks towards home time on a Friday. After setting up a big trial to run over the weekend it is really easy to just click Ok to any and all messages on the instrument computer just to get things running.
Message box: “Do you want me to destroy all your samples and not give you any data?”
Me: “Yeah sure, whatever, just start already.” <mouse click>
Me, two femtoseconds later: “Wait, what? I mean ‘No’. Cancel! Cancel! CANCEL!!” <foetal position, sobbing>
This is possibly an exaggeration, but not by much. Consequently, Fridays are best reserved for cleaning and filling tip boxes.
As for feeling generally under the weather or a little like the onset of flu, don’t even step foot in the lab. It will only end badly.
This is how I invented my (now patented) lab-ninja manoeuvre. I fought the brain fog one day to come in to check on a trial that I had set up the day before. I was going over what I had done and picked up an error in my calculations that adversely affected the whole trial. I had to start again.
Nevermind, I consoled myself. Just clean it up and get it all going again and properly this time.
So I threw out all the samples and cleaned up the containers and everything and then started to set up the trial again. And then I re-checked my calculations.
No, wait. That was right the first time… <face palm>
It would have been better if I just stayed in bed a bit longer and come in if not refreshed then at least not completely stupid.
Research is one of those few jobs where it is actually better and more productive to stop lab work when you’re not feeling up for it. A bad day in a desk job is not getting much done. A bad day in the lab is destroying samples that took months to prepare and having to start from scratch.
So the next time you’re feeling a bit under the weather or taken with a sudden urgency to be in the lab on a Friday afternoon or Monday pre-coffee, just stop and take a deep breath and go write some emails. It may be the most productive thing you can do.