Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Lab Queen

I realized recently I've been doing a lot of things related to overall lab running. I order general supplies when we run out. I instituted lab cleanup. I made executive decisions and ordered organizing containers and storage options. I made a lab email list so I could communicate with everybody. I have historical knowledge, so I answer all questions the new students throw at me. I'm in charge of keeping the lab in compliance with health and safety regulations, which requires some paperwork.

All of these responsibilities used to scare me, but I knew they were coming and after my second year I felt ready. Took a little longer than I expected (PhDs always take longer to graduate than they think they do.... ha!), but now I'm at the end of my third year, and it's finally feeling natural.

But is it coming TOO naturally?

I thought it was kind of funny when I sent out a lab email about the first lab cleanup. I included a list of To-Dos, and one of the students wrote back, "Sure I'll help! Can you just assign me something?" I thought, "Delegating tasks - coming right up!" Of course I can assign things.

Then as we were actually doing lab cleanup - cleaning out old equipment - we realized we had an extra toolbox. "Ooh" said my labmate, "I'll take it!" I laughed and quipped back, "I'd beat you to it!" He chuckled, but said out the side of his mouth, "Abusing the seniority privilege a bit there, aren't we?" Turns out we used the toolbox for something else, so it was a moot point.

Later, I was looking at one of the new student's projects, and I asked why he used crimp connectors instead of barbed fittings. "Because I like them better!" he said, "I think we should make the lab standard crimp fittings, not barbed." I quickly responded, "Oh I don't THINK so. YOU can use crimp, but I'M going to stick with barbed." "Drat!" he said, "Foiled again! Why don't I get to make lab standards?"

So I am becoming too much of a Lab Queen? Too pushy, heady with this little bit of power and responsibility?

Or is it even a bad thing for there to be a Lab Queen? I mean, SOMEBODY has to keep things running smoothly.

I thought back to how I interacted with the two older students who were ahead of me. The most senior one just sort of took care of things - I guess I didn't even notice. He never asked me to change how I worked (like I'm asking people to keep their own things on shelves designated to that person). Supplies just always showed up, he never mentioned it. When I wanted something, I asked, he answered. He never sent announcements to the whole lab (but, there were only three of us, so it wasn't that big a deal).

The only responsibility I can remember that the most senior guy had, that the rest of us did not, was that he was in charge of safety and following EHS requirements.

So what say you, Internet? Should I try hard not to be pushy? Is it okay to lay down the law? How do responsibilities break down in your lab?

In the meantime, as my dad says, "It's good to be the king."

1 comment:

  1. hmm, it's a bit tricky and I think it really depends on the dynamic you have with you lab mates.

    My current lab is a big group with a lab manager technician who basically runs the show with regards to ordering, clean up coordination, etc, which is nice. I worked in one small lab as an undergraduate, which was very much "every man for himself" and, at that stage, I would have liked for a senior lab member to have taken on more of a leadership role with regards to those sorts of things.

    So I think it's probably a good thing to act as a leader as long as (1) you obviously do it in a way that your lab mates respect and (2) you don't find yourself spending too much time on "running the lab" type tasks that it is cutting into yur research time.