Photo by Jason Wong


It’s that time of year again. Time to tell yourself you will do things. The things you keep meaning to do but you don’t. January – the month of getting things in order. At least for a week or two. Then you go back to your regular routine. Obviously, no one likes having to do things. For someone working in a research lab, this is the perfect time to start getting into good habits. Kickstart the new year and other such clichés. Here are a few things you may tell yourself you will totes, definitely, 100% start to do this year!

Sort out your plasmid bank

Is it just me or do all labs have a plasmid bank that is never kept up-to-date? The plasmid bank sits there all year round, unorganized and confusing. Having to find anything in this bank is almost impossible and you dread the day that someone requests a plasmid from you that in theory was there around ten years ago, probably. Now you go to find this plasmid and you are confronted by an empty tube and a handwritten plasmid map made by that PhD student who left ages ago and no one has heard from since. Not this year! This is the year you finally get it in order. Maps will be made digital. Back up stocks will be produced. Hopefully. It is quite a lot of work.

Label tubes efficiently

Have you come back after the holidays to be greeted by RNA sample tubes 1-9? QPCR plate 22? Did you use neural marker primer sets 1, 4 (new), 6, and 11? This chaos cannot go on! Your life will be an agonizing mess by the time you come to write your thesis. It may take a bit of extra time to label your tubes properly but it will probably be worth it in the end. You can also take it a step further and use different colored markers or little stickers for your Eppi lids. Maybe that’s too much. One step at a time.

Keep your lab book up to date

Not every lab has strict lab book rules. Lab book writing can range from very basic – cut and stick whatever scrap of paper you have into the book. To very detailed – having an aims, materials and methods, results, and discussion for everything you do. Whatever your preference it will probably help in the long run if you keep this up to date. Suddenly you can find old protocols you need that you never thought you would use again. Future lab members can look through your notes and actually find what you did! Magical. It is a massive hassle though. Do it when you have some downtime.

Back up your data

Backing up your data is long and boring and no one wants to do it. But you always have that niggly feeling in the back of your head that you should do it. What if I get a virus on my computer? What if something happens and the files get corrupted. What if some evil genius steals all my data! Fear not! For now is the perfect time of year to back up your data. Put it on hard drives. Put it on dropbox. Put it in the cloud. Lock it away in a safe. Two safes! Maybe three safes! Whatever you do, now is the perfect time of year to do it. Keep that science safe. It could change the world one day.

Organize your computer files

Do you have stray documents floating around your computer? Is your desktop turning into one giant documents folder? Take action! Spend a day or two getting this in order. Make folders. Label documents. Get rid of that Word file that’s been there for two years labeled ‘misc’. Once this is done you will feel zen. A sense of calm will wash over you. Now stick to this! Keep your filing system clean and well labeled. Your life will seem easier and tranquil. Happy computer, happy life.

So what are you waiting for? Get to it! Small changes to your everyday lab life can make a big difference to your everyday happiness and wellbeing. Start your lab detox today. If you stick with it, great! If you don’t, at least you tried. There’s always next year.

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