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Career tip: Common tasks, common areas in the lab May 18, 2012

Posted by fetzthechemist in Uncategorized.
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Most labs operate, whether in industry or academia or in government, like a confederation, a loose assemblage of barely coordinated independent researchers. Each person works on some assugned project (or projects). The work may be solo or in concert with others, but the various projects within the lab are each autonomously done. Equipment is often allocated so that the mentality is that it is owned by someone. The same goes for solvents, reagents, and other chemicals.

But certain things are common-use. Sample-prep areas with balances are a common example. So, often, are hood spaces. These are used by everybody and supposedly owed by everybody. But joint use areas like these, or the maintaining of joint-use consumables like lab gloves, pipettes, spatulas, et cetera, often become very contentious things within lab operations. Why?

If there are no set responsibilities for keeping these areas clean and ready to use (or for consumables, in supply) then chaos often ensues. Nobody takes on the tasks because everybody is supposed to for all work. People differ in diligence and in how they set priorities. Some people clean up immediately after using a hood or balance. Others wait until they thing the task is done, but their view of the task is an experiment, not the small job of weighing or diluting or some other step within the hood. These people appear to leave a mess behind as viewed by the immediate types. The bigger-taFriction rises. After enough, tension and resentments are constant.

A lab supervisor must have some system to deal with this. Either a rule favoring the immediate mentality because that left for later cleanup may be in the way for anyone else who needs to take a weight or deal with a noxious sample. Or someone is empowered to monitor these areas (or the amount of consumables) and designate a cleaner or an orderer. Or some other system to make sure things stay in a usable state.

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