It’s my last Saturday at the lab.
For years the lab has dominated my entire life. I moved continents to do PhD research. I had to make new friends in a new country. Friends I rarely saw, because I spent nights and evenings in the lab. I’ve been at the lab on a Sunday morning at six, before the streetcars started running. I’ve been there on a Tuesday night at 1:30 AM, almost missing the last subway. I’ve missed parties and dinners, leaving me out of photos and inside jokes.
In return for what?
Constant fear of degraded samples, failure, unverified hypotheses. Taking care of cells whenever they need it. Pressure to perform, where performance is judged by positive results. Always having to think ahead: Do we have the kit I need to do the thing I must do first thing tomorrow in order to have the samples for the experiment that can only be done next Tuesday and at no other time in the next four weeks? Where else do you get that kind of stress? Where else does it really matter if you do a certain task on Sunday night or Monday morning?
But where else do you get so much freedom in making your own schedule? Where else is the work ethic so high that everybody accepts that there is no overpay for inevitable weekends and late hours? Where else do you get paid to learn? Where else do you share a workplace with people of such a wide variety of nationalities and backgrounds?
I thought I’d never miss the frustration of western blots. I thought I’d gladly leave cell culture behind. I was looking forward to the day I’d never have to spin down another Eppendorf tube. I thought the perfect band on a gel was never worth the failed attempts leading up to it. I eagerly counted down the years, months, weeks, and days until I’d finally be free.
And now, on my last Saturday at the lab, I suddenly realize that it’s not just a lab, but a whole way of life that I’m leaving behind.
I fight back a few tears: If they fall in the RNA samples, I’m stuck here another month.
(Written during blog break, on October 25th, at the lab, while waiting for the PCR machine. Change is sometimes hard, but good.)