Working in a lab requires a diverse set of talents and skills. Fine-motor skills and dexterity are needed to manipulate pipettes, small tubes and plates— often while wearing gloves. There is the brute strength needed to heft rotors into centrifuges and remove boxes frozen to the bottom of –70°C freezers. And finally, there is the attention to detail that is required in almost everything. You want to be sure that you have put all the needed reagents into every one of those identical little tubes. If you are going to frostbite your fingers excavating a box from the depths of the freezer, you want to be sure it is the right box, and any one who has ever experienced an unbalanced centrifuge (or, heaven forbid, ultracentrifuge) knows the importance of properly balancing the rotor. What is not always obvious to us is how many of these skills translate to life outside the lab.
My least favorite duty when I worked in the lab was tissue culture. For most of my tissue culture career, I was maintaining a number of cell lines, as well as trying to develop new stable cell lines. Little did I realize that those long hours meticulously placing cloning cylinders would come to serve me well and in a completely unexpected way.
It all started when we locked ourselves out of our house early on a Friday morning. The locksmith had to break the lock to open the door. So we found ourselves at a local hardware store purchasing a new lock and a kit to rekey it so we could continue to use one key for all the doors. At home, we took apart the new lock, removed the pins and springs and assembled new pins to match our existing keys. All that remained was to put the springs and new pins in and reassemble the lock. The problem was that the springs kept pushing the new pins out of the holes, so one of us had to put the springs and pins in, then the other had to use a small round item to hold that pin down in the hole (we used a chop stick) while the next spring/pin was put into place.
After struggling for thirty minutes we had two (out of six) pins in place, and I asked my husband if I could try placing the pins. In return I received “the look”. You all know the one I mean. It says “What on earth makes you think you’ll have any more luck than I am having?” What he did not realize was I had had on the job training. Who would have guessed that replacing springs and pins in a lock would be so similar to placing cloning cylinders on a plate. It was a good lesson for us. We all bring with us talents and skills that are a culmination of our experiences.
The people who work with me are no exception. Between us we have a wide range of lab experiences. We have worked with HIV, CMV, tuberculosis, potatoes, Hepatitis, neurotransmitters and worm sperm. We bring all those experiences with us to work everyday, and everything we do is viewed through a filter made up of all our accomplishments and frustrations. We write, we edit, we create technical illustrations and animations, we teach. And if the need arises, we can even rekey a lock.