The Atmosphere Suddenly Got Acidic

, , , , | Learning | September 2, 2019

(I work in a cancer research facility. For some background to the story, we are not a learning center, but a fully-functioning research building. We do have students, but they are at least in the third or fourth year of college, and some are even working on their thesis. We have a rule: if you have to use the equipment and do not know how, DO NOT touch it and ask for help. This rule is in place to protect the insanely expensive equipment, such as high-resolution microscopes, centrifuges, and cytometers, because if something happens to them, the hourly fee for a qualified technician runs in the hundreds of dollars. This rule applies to every machine, not only the expensive ones.)

Student: “Hi. I need to measure the pH of this solution.”

Me: “No problem. Here is the pH meter to do that. Do you know how to use it?”

Student: “This one is different than the model I know.”

(All pH meters work the same. You know how to use one, you know them all. pH meters have a crystal electrode that you introduce in the solution, and the machine gives you the pH measure automatically. However, you have to clean the electrode before using it to wash away the conservation solution — KCl — and to not contaminate your own solution with it.  I take her answer as she doesn’t know where the Off/On button is, so I turn it on for her and resume my work. The student takes the electrode, pulls it out of the conservation solution, and plunges it into her solution, which is the same color and texture of blue ink.)

Me: “Did you wash the electrode?”

Student: *confused* “Was I supposed to do that?”

Me: “Well… yes. Because if not, you just cross-contaminated your solution. Unless you know for a fact that your solution contains potassium chloride.”

Student: *alarmed* “Oh, no!”

(She proceeds to take the electrode out of her blue solution and plunge it again into the conservation solution, which turns blue immediately and now will have to be disposed of and replaced. I look at her, speechless. Suddenly realizing what she just did, she says:)

Student: “Oh, oh, what a mess I have made! Oh, my! I will have to do the solution again! I will be back to measure the pH later!”

(And without another word, she ran out of the door. Obviously, I had to clean up the pH meter and the counter and replace the conservation solution for a new one. She has not come back yet to measure the pH of her solution.)

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His Attitude Will Have You Shaking

, , , , | Working | July 4, 2019

(I am a teen, starting work in a laboratory. I am quiet and new to the working world, so I keep my head down and do everything to not screw up. There is a coworker that everyone tiptoes around. I can’t see why, apart from him being a bit unusual, until one day it becomes clear when two of my coworkers come into the room very flustered.)

Coworker: “You can’t speak to the driver like that!”

Unusual Coworker: “That idiot does it all the time.”

Coworker: “He’s just doing his job!”

Unusual Coworker: *shouting* “Then he needs to do it properly!” *storms out, slamming the door so hard the whole room shakes*

Me: “What was that all about?”

Coworker: “One of the guys dropped some parts off slightly out of the line marking. [Unusual Coworker] shouted and swore at him.”

Me: “You are kidding me!”

(No sooner have I finished my sentence than the unusual coworker storms back in again, slamming the door open.)

Unusual Coworker: “I don’t know what you two are talking about, but you need to pull it together. I’m sick of putting up with stuff like this!”

Coworker: “Don’t take it out on me; you need to calm down.”

Unusual Coworker: *getting right in his face* “You want to take this outside?”

Coworker: “Get out of my face, or I will make you regret it!”

(The atmosphere is terrible. I can’t speak, just shaking my head as he yet again storms out. Things calm down after a few hours before the unusual coworker blocks my path outside.)

Unusual Coworker: “I don’t like your attitude.”

Me: “What? I haven’t said two words to you.”

Unusual Coworker: “You shook your head at me; I want an apology.”

Me: “What?! Fine. I apologise for shaking my head. Get out of my way.”

(I reported his attitude to my boss, as did my coworker. A week later, he was removed from the company. I’m still working there, but it is a much better atmosphere all round.)

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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!)

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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.

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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.)

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