Emma Kampouraki

Lab endurance is your duty!

By Emma Kampouraki

In our days, there is no such thing as dong a PhD without at some point finding yourself in need of something used, produced or ordered by the previous doctorate student before you even arrive. We’ve all been there, and if you haven’t you will get there at some point. My own experience has showed that those “somethings” are much more than I could ever imagine, so it is now a good time to define the 5 golden rules of how to complete your PhD without leaving a mess behind.

  1. Keep an organised lab book

A Latin proverb says “Verba volant, scripta manent”. It is so true that spoken words fly away, while written words remain. Especially so for protocols optimised or developed during your PhD, but haven’t been published yet.

  1. Share your secrets

It is always kind and wise of you to make good notes of what worked and what didn’t in your experiments. Random observations that can really make a difference, experiments to test different factors that might have an influence on the technique and all those little things you learned or changed during working in this particular lab. Make a list or have a quick meeting with the newbie that’s about to start working where you used to and make sure you pass on this information. The way you have organised the drawers, or the place where you’ve stored those important chemicals will save loads of time and effort. Think about how you felt when you were searching for something and three months later, when you finally located it, it was nowhere near where you would expect it to be. Grrr…

  1. Leave your bench tidy

No matter what time of the year you are leaving, you should always remember to throw all the things you stuck on walls or hung above your bench and which are totally useless for the next poor guy that will have to spend 3 years at least in this bench. Organise the stuff you used to throw in your drawers, dispose of any chemicals that have expired but you kept them in the fridge “just in case” and in general, make every effort to return the bench better than how you found it. It is a gesture of respect to the next generations.

  1. Share your thesis with your colleagues

Another cute gesture that everyone who completes a PhD should consider would be to send an electronic copy of the thesis to the guys you leave behind. This simple thing will save them hours of searching for a paper you have talked to them about in the past, or for a paper with more clearly defined methods as in your lab book, or for results that they may be asked to replicate, or even a good template when they decide to start writing their own thesis. Not to mention that your thesis will be certainly referenced in theirs.

  1. Keep in touch

I’ve always hated those people that never reply to my e-mails. Even worse when at some point I asked a previous PhD student about where some samples were stored and never bothered to get back to me. I spent days looking for them and when I found them and had one more question, my supervisor dropped them a line and they replied the same day!!! For this reason, the 5th golden rule will have to be: “Keep in touch with your lab group and always reply back when someone contacts you about samples you have worked with before, no matter who it is that’s asking”.

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