Lab therapy


Ice cream makes everything better. 

I did something crazy the other day. It was one of those laboratory clean up days that precedes the arrival of important visitors and the lab was abuzz with activity. Holding a tray of 100 samples, I walked up to a group of people and stopped their conversation.

“Watch this!” I said and tipped the whole tray of samples into the bin. The crowd gasped in shock and awe and someone said “how could you?!” I just grinned in triumph.

Throwing out samples is one of the hardest things researchers have to do. Samples can take days, weeks or sometimes months to prepare for analysis and by that time they become more precious than platinum.

Even when the project is finished and even after the paper is written, even then the final stage of getting rid of the samples is still gut-wrenching.

What if one of the tests needs to be repeated? What if something else needs to be measured? Some tests only need 25 uL of sample and having to repeat months-worth of work for 25 uL is why therapy was invented. This sort of thing can take years to come to terms with.

There are, however, more effective means of therapy than sitting on a couch with a therapist. One of them is smashing glassware. Admittedly, this is only recommended when disposing of glassware that is already broken. Scientific glassware is never cheap but there’s no point gently disposing of something that has a hairline fracture when you’re having a bad day.

Another great remedy for frustration is hurling something out of a window, preferably the instrument causing the frustration. Although, given that the cost of analytical instruments can easily run into the hundreds of thousands of dollars, this one is best left to fantasy.

As for my recent craziness, those samples had been on my bench for months as a ‘just in case’. And then I realised I didn’t actually need them. The trial hadn’t worked and it was a complete do-over so there was really no point in keeping the 300 samples.

The simple act of throwing out these samples made me feel lighter, like a huge weight had lifted off my shoulders, and just plain old happy because of the giddy recklessness of it. That’s better than therapy any day.