The Lab

“…ple coloured bin. While making sure you put the used tips into the bag.”

Lab inductions are a necessary evil, even if the majority of what is said can be summarised with “don’t be an idiot with things that could hurt you”. But then if you’re like me, you zone out at inopportune times, which means you may have to scrounge around for context clues to figure out which colour bin you should be putting those used tips in (the fact that you wouldn’t be touching the chemicals is irrelevant, though it may have contributed to the aforementioned zone outs).

To continue, I haven’t been trained to work in a proper microbiology lab. I knew vaguely of the procedures required from having done a course or two on microbiology (or was it molecular biology?). My undergrad experiments were primarily done in a greenhouse. There were rarely any hazardous chemicals and the level of precision required for the chemicals I did use were measured by the “capful” and “one more for good measure”. The safety paperwork involved drinking water and avoiding that slippery patch of algae between rows three and four.

Suffice to say, coming into lab with standard operating procedures for every conceivable thing was a culture shock.

(Dirty glasses on the bottom of the ORANGE trolley.)

I’d like to think I’m adaptable – which is why I found myself studying fungi perhaps, that or a deep seated sense of masochism – so I made sure I paid attention to the induction. Except when it ticks past 73 minutes, which is the extent of my attention span. Though as I scramble to refocus my attention, the lab safety person goes to the last slide. Looking down, I realised I had still managed to write down a page of notes. I figure I’m good enough to not set myself on fire.

The first time I entered the lab, I was met with the stark realisation that it really was just a small room (cramped to be honest) filled with expensive equipment and glassware. I pointed out the plentiful glassware as a stray observation and the person showing me around told me that there were never enough and that there is a store downstairs for more. My mind boggled. My legs followed.

In my first week working in the lab, I had learnt how to make my own agar media, how to autoclave said media without it blowing up, how to use three different kinds of fume/flow hoods and how to crack open a piece of decaying wood (though the last point was mainly through trial and error). Really, it wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be. It wasn’t a leaky greenhouse where I could (would) dance and sing loudly to whatever was playing on the radio that day, but I could see myself doing the work.

Based on my timeline, I should have pure cultures of my fungi in a few months, so I’ll be here plenty yet. And now at three weeks in, I’ve yet to set myself on fire despite working with 100% ethanol.

Which is of course when my supervisor sends around an email saying that one of the bins caught fire. He didn’t specify which colour it was.

I’m fairly certain I didn’t set something on fire.

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