Accidental talents

foxtrot

Working in a lab may make you a better dancer. Image: psu.edu/khallmusic 

Research scientists have unusual skill sets. Some skills are expected, like good experimental designs and writing decent scientific papers. But other skills develop as side effects of repeated lab work that are just plain weird. Useful, but weird.

One of the key skills that I’ve developed is the ability to transfer small amounts of liquid from one vial to another. I should really have that on my resume. My entire PhD consisted of evaporating solvent from compounds that I isolated from leaves and then dissolving them in the smallest volume possible. And then transferring that concentrated solution to a more convenient container. An important skill.

Another accidental talent of many researchers is the Art of Finding Stuff. Before any new experiment can begin, Stuff must be found. Mostly containers. Science revolves around the particular vessels that are available for storing liquids and many experiments are designed around the size and number of available storage containers.

Labs also contain many hidden and long forgotten chemicals and glassware buried in the back of drawers labelled with very unhelpful names like “Things in here”. The real skill comes from remembering what’s actually in these drawers from the last round of rummaging, thus reducing the time taken to locate useful items.

One of the more unexpected skills that I’ve developed as a researcher is dancing. I don’t mean the tragic happenings that occur when I listen to dance music, which is unfortunately more related to seizures than elegance. I mean the delicate balance of interactions that come from performing coinciding experiments with other lab users that is surely on par with the grace required for, say, ballroom dancing.

The necessary politeness needed to work very closely in another’s space and the acknowledgement that both parties must move in a particular way to meet similar objectives are common elements in both dancing and lab work. There’s also the inevitable give and take required for both parties to achieve their objectives. With practice, this becomes smoother and more natural, making this more art form than science.

More often than not that act of doing science takes much more than scientific knowledge and we don’t even realise that we’re building these skills. If only that was the same for exercise.

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