The BS Meter Is Broken, Too

, , , , , , | Working | April 26, 2019

(After my freshman year in college, I get a summer internship in a lab. I’m doing pretty basic stuff, but as an eighteen-year-old with hardly any experience, it seems pretty cool. During my second week, I break a small piece of equipment, completely my fault.)

Me: “Uh, [Coworker #1]? I broke the pH meter probe.”

Coworker #1: “Oh, that’s okay. I’ll go grab another; I’ll show you how to replace it. Wait here.”

([Coworker #1] leaves to go to the storage room to find a new probe while I stand there waiting.)

Coworker #2: *walks in* “What are you doing? Why aren’t you testing these samples?”

Me: “I broke the pH meter probe; [Coworker #1] is getting a new one.”

Coworker #2: “You what? You broke it? Do you have any idea how expensive these are?! This is coming out of your paycheck! These things are like $400!”

Me: “What?!”

Coworker #2: “Yeah. You break it, you buy it.”

Me: “It was an accident!”

Coworker #2: “Doesn’t matter. Be more careful next time. You’ll never get a job if you break stuff all the time.”

(He goes to his bench and [Coworker #1] comes back.)

Me: “Are these really $400?”

Coworker #1: “Huh? Yeah, I guess.”

(He shows me how to replace the probe and I finish my work. When I go home, I calculate how long it’ll take me to pay off this $400 probe, at $6.70 an hour: about a week and a half! I’m pretty frustrated. The next day:)

Coworker #1: “Hey, did [Coworker #2] tell you that you have to pay for the pH probe you broke yesterday?”

Me: “Yeah, he did. Don’t worry; I’ll be more careful! This won’t happen again.”

Coworker #1: “That a**hole. You don’t have to pay for it! Don’t worry about it.”

Coworker #2: *leans out from his lab bench* “I can’t believe you bought that!” *laughs maniacally*

(Ever since then, when I train people, I urge them to be careful but make sure they know they don’t have to pay to replace things broken by accident!)

Not A Supportive Culture

, , , , , , | Learning | March 25, 2019

My introductory microbiology professor had a tradition of having the students make yogurt during the last lab of his class as a fun way to demonstrate the usefulness of microbes in food production. For those who aren’t familiar with the process, good bacteria are added to milk, and after incubating for a few hours the milk becomes thick and sour.

My professor showed up to lab that day quite perturbed. He had a PhD in microbiology, but the university had told him he could not make yogurt in the lab anymore because he did not have a food handler’s permit.

It’s Good For The Boss That You Have Internal Filters

, , , | Working | March 18, 2019

(I work as an intern in the lab. One of my jobs is filtrate mud to separate clear water from solid particles. This batch’s mud is exceptionally thick and the filter paper tears easily, so I use two layers of paper per filtration, as my supervisor recommended. It means a filtration that usually takes half an hour now takes two to three hours, but it is the only way to get it done properly. The boss of the lab pops up and see me preparing the layers. He is not a great listener and thinks he is always right.)

Boss: “Why are you doing it this way? It’s going to take forever! You only need one filter paper.”

Me: “I need to use two this time or it doesn’t filter properly. [Supervisor] told me—“

Boss: “Don’t be ridiculous. Here, let me show you.”

(I internally cringe, as him doing experiments always results in me and my supervisor spending hours cleaning after him, and I just know this time is not going to be any different. But he is my boss, so I let him to it and go work on other tasks. I keep an eye on him for twenty minutes and see him struggle and keep tearing the filter paper, mud going through instead of clear water. He finally “has something urgent to do in his office,” which is my cue to clean up the huge mess. I try my best to scoop mud from the flasks and everything the boss used as quickly and efficiently as possible, so we can still analyze the sample before it dries up. Seeing the disaster, my supervisor gives up what he is doing and helps me. As we are finishing up, the boss comes back from his urgent matter. He looks at us cleaning for a little while and tell us patronizingly:)

Boss: “Yes, you see, for this batch, you should use two layers of filter or it goes everywhere! Remember it for next time.”

(He promptly exited and let us bask in his wisdom.)

A Rags To Rashes Story

, , , , | Healthy | March 12, 2019

My dad likes to share this story of when he worked in a science lab.

There were massive security protocols in place for everything, but one day, a pile of what looked like rags was left in a high-traffic area. People were basically forced to step on the rags to walk through. Nobody seemed to be paying attention to them, or be concerned that they were just lying there.

My dad saw them when he arrived for the day and was finally the one who followed protocol and called it in.

Apparently, the response was something to behold. The lab was shut down. Nobody in the entire lab facility was allowed to leave until they went through thorough decontamination; since it was a high-traffic area, basically everyone had to be considered “exposed” to… whatever it was. Their clothes and shoes were confiscated. People in Hazmat suits came, collected the rags, shut down the wing for decontamination, and left everyone sitting around for hours, unable to do anything or leave.

At the end of the day, an all-clear was given: “We’ve determined that there’s no contamination or exposure from the rags. However, if anyone develops a fungus-like infection or rash, please report it immediately.”

My dad commented, “That’s so comforting to hear.”

The entire staff got to be dragged in for a refresher on safety protocols and “why we don’t just walk through a potential contamination hazard.”

H2-Slow To Act

, , , , , | Working | February 26, 2019

Back in the early 2000s, our lab where we analyzed drug products moved to a new facility. This location was fully contained and boasted, among other things, an automatic washer for laboratory glassware — quite important when you’re analyzing stuff.

Despite this “state of the art” facility, some of us started noticing spots on our glassware. I, for one, began rewashing the glassware myself, by hand. My boss didn’t like my spending my time that way, but I managed to make it sufficiently speedy that he pretty much was unaware I was doing it.

Some years later, several of us were having trouble with our assays. Management basically refused to listen to our complaint about the glassware, and the problem seemed to get worse and worse. Finally, a young PhD took it upon himself to investigate further and determined that the spots on our glassware were not merely water spots — which shouldn’t have been there, anyway — but were residual detergent, quite capable of messing up many assays.

He then investigated the dishwashing facility and determined that not only were they not rinsing glassware with deionized water, but they also weren’t even rinsing it with tap water. It seems the washer was plumbed wrong and was recycling wash water where it should have used fresh water.

All of this could have severely compromised our analytical results — which were being reported to the government — but management just swept the problem under the rug like it never happened!

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