Life Outside the Lab

Saying, or in this case writing, the words ‘life outside the lab’ will no doubt provoke a mixture of longing sighs, bitter laughter, and general scepticism from some people. But what do I actually mean? Initial thoughts may be about one’s social life or lack of, which is of course very important, and definitely what I instantly thought of when I was a PhD student day-dreaming about life outside the lab. These days however it has another meaning. That doesn’t mean to say that I have given up entirely on having a social life! My own is in fact quite good despite being in the final 10-month stretch of my postdoc and having a battered bank balance post-wedding (which was totally worth it though).

Now I’m sure I’m not the only one who has had days were they have felt guilty, or that they “weren’t really working”, because no physical laboratory work was done. For me these are the days when I need to catch up on my lab book, analyse data and make figures, attend meetings, send e-mails, write reports………. You get the picture. But these are all things that need to be done. Then there are the things that I choose to do apart from the good old experiments and the more routine lab work, and these are the things that I class as ‘life outside the lab’.

I am extremely lucky to work at an institute that seems to provide an endless supply of fantastic opportunities, and I am now into the way of thinking that if something comes along that I like the sound of, I go for it. I’m not so sure that I always thought the same when I was doing my PhD. I can definitely think of a few instances in which I declined the opportunity to do something because I was too busy in the lab or at least felt I was too busy and shouldn’t take the time away. These were things such as training courses or workshops, seminars or lecture series outside of the institute, or poster sessions, and if I could do it all over again this is something I would do differently. I should clarify that it was I alone, and not my supervisor, putting the pressure on to be chained to the cell culture hood.

Recently I became aware of a student who was in the opposite situation. They were repeatedly being told by their supervisor not to sign up, volunteer for, or ask to take part in anything (and in one case were ordered to drop out of an already booked workshop), because they were expected to be in the lab all day, every day. Now of course I am in no place to comment on or second-guess the decisions of said supervisor and I’m sure they had their reasons. However in the age that we live in where employers are always looking for those little extras on a CV that make a candidate stand out, and as there are an ever-increasing number of career options available that don’t involve traditional wet lab work, it seemed a tad short-sighted. Plus, if you spend all day, every day in the lab, your experiments may stop working and mistakes may be made because you will have gone mad. I speak from a place of experience on this one!

Going back to my previous comment about feeling guilty for doing things that are not physical lab work, which I suppose includes work-related events not in the lab – we definitely need to get over it. Getting the balance right is essential of course, as is doing whatever helps maintain a happy-work-face.

My happy-work-face was on in a big way last week entering my first scientific writing competition (wish me luck) and attending a fantastic training course run by Screenhouse Productions Ltd. The course was a one-day communications master class featuring Dr Maggie Aderin-Pocock MBE, and I was given permission to write a summary and review for my blog. I am hoping to have it posted by the end of the year, which I am aware sounds like a very long time, but it’s actually only a few weeks away.

Christmas holidays yeah!


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