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Code Red Alert!

, , , , , , | Right | July 19, 2022

Our lab is used by companies who want to drug test their employees or potential applicants, usually via a urine test. I sign in an applicant and direct them to their room, and they then return with the sample bag. The bag is clear and contains the collection tube inside.

Me: “Sir, I don’t think we can accept this sample.”

Applicant: *Immediately defensive* “Why not?!”

Me: “Because if you’re going to try to fool our tests, I personally wouldn’t try to replace the urine with Mountain Dew.”

Applicant: “How do you know that’s Mountain Dew?!”

Me: “One, I can see the soda bottle in your pocket, the color of which matches the sample you’ve just returned. And two, unless you urgently need to see a doctor, I would have gone with regular Mountain Dew, not their Code Red flavor.”

Licenses Exist For A Reason

, , , , | Working | February 21, 2022

When I was almost done with my Ph.D., I did a brief stint in a lab in the private sector. I was looking for a stable paid job while I was in the hiatus between the end of my scholarship and a job in a public research institution, which is a typical plan where I live. Why was it “brief”? Because of the following exchange.

Me: “[Lab Senior], we are almost out of [chemical]. One week at most at our usual pace. We really should buy more at once. Its stock is always too low for our needs.”

Lab Senior: “Okay! Can you please order more? You can get the supplier’s info and the usual quantity in the folder by the entrance.”

Me: “Sure! Is the license in the same folder?”

Lab Senior: “The what?”

And I went pale.

In most, if not all of the world, there are lists of restricted and controlled substances. They are either too toxic or too unmanageable, can be used to make explosives or worse, or are just plain illegal in any other setting but a lab. Buying them, of course — and justly so — involves some red tape, and knowing this while working on a lab is something I thought was common sense. I was wrong.

Me: “The license for buying [chemical]! We do have it, don’t we?”

Lab Senior: “Oh, that! It expired two years ago. That’s why we are buying in small quantities!”

Me: “Are you kidding me?! The h*** I’ll order it!”

Lab Senior: “C’mon! Stop being a [slur]. As long we order in small quantities, no one will look into it! The administrative bigheads are looking into getting our licences back.”

Me: “‘Licenses’? In the plural?”

Lab Senior: “Well… we let some of our licenses expire. This happens; it’s common all over! People are already looking into it, and we can’t just stop working! Just do your job and I’ll order more [chemical].”

In the following days, I looked into our papers and discovered that not only were almost all our licenses expired, but also, the lab wasn’t following the legal procedures for control and discarding of our chemicals. I gave my notice, and as soon I was out, I gave an anonymous tip to the competent authorities about the lab and the suppliers.

The last thing I knew, some people on the top of the lab were jailed for a negligible amount of time, and there were some fines that were nothing more than slaps on the wrists of the suppliers and the company.

Since this episode, every time I interviewed for a private lab, I asked about their licenses and protocols. And I’ve only once worked for a lab in the private sector ever since, after almost ten “nopes”.

Everything Becomes Obsolete Eventually

, , , , , | Working | August 10, 2021

I just started a new job in a lab and picked up the work quickly. After a few months, I’m introduced to [Coworker], an old guy who has been with the company for decades. I’ve never had much to do with [Coworker]; he does whatever he has to do, away in the corner.

It turns out much of the work in the lab has changed dramatically in the last ten years, and [Coworker] just can’t keep up. They keep him on to work some of the older machines and that’s all he does. [Coworker] is taking a holiday and they ask me to try to learn how to do the basics of his work before he leaves.

It turns out that [Coworker] is a bitter old technophobe. Any discussion or any mention of anything new in the past twenty years is met with derision. He has nothing good to say about anyone or anything. Whenever his PC throws up an error message (by his doing), he complains and mocks “how great modern technology is.”

The training is painfully slow. I sit in silence for most of the week. Eventually, it is over and [Coworker] goes on holiday.

Boss: “If you need any help on [Coworker’s machine], let me know and we can go through it together.”

Me: “Oh, thanks. But I’m finished.”

Boss: “Already? Well, you can make a start on the work pending after your break.”

Me: “I did that, too. I was going to ask, is there much more for today? I can go back to my normal job, otherwise.”

Boss: *Pauses* “No, that was the work for the week.”

Me: “Oh, okay. Slow week, I guess.”

Boss: “Can you show me how you did it? Not that I don’t believe you.”

Me: “Err… sure.”

I show him how I used the machine, just like I was trained. He runs a few through tasks himself and gets the same results.

Boss: “Keep this between you and me, but this work normally takes a full week, and you did it in a few hours. But [Coworker] only has two more months at the company. “

Me: “Okay, I get it.”

[Coworker] came back, and the first thing he asked was if I’d broken the machine; the youth of today don’t listen so he would have to recheck everything. My boss stopped him there and let him know that I had done a great job and would be taking over full-time after he retired.

More negativity and derision.

Thankfully, a few months later, he retired, but not before one last act of pettiness: he took the books and notes for the old machines. Luckily, my notes were more than enough, and the machines were replaced a year later, anyway.