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I went into the lab this morning, to mix up a couple of solutions, and emerged several hours later, solutions unmade. I'd best wrap up that project this afternoon.

Instead, I worked on cleaning and organizing the space. While this is a waste of time, to some extent, I'm also learning where everything is located in the lab. It might be interesting to watch an episode of Hoarders (from what I know of the show) go through a research laboratory. I'm not touching the dangerous stuff in the fume hood or chemical storage cabinets, however.

Superficially, this lab looked like it was in bad shape. However, as I'm cleaning, I'm deciding that it's not as bad as it all looks. It's mostly just suffering from the legacy of a parade of mostly-undergraduates, who don't always know what different things do, who can't always distinguish what's valuable from what's trash, and who aren't motivated to keep their glassware clean. Once a person has spent enough years in a research lab, many more of these things become apparent. My boss here knows, but he's also too busy to attend to all of these items.

A lot of people think it's a good idea to hire undergraduates to do the dishes and organize. I think that is often a bad precedent, with the exception of cases where a project generates a consistently high volume of dishware that can be cleaned in a routine fashion (and that fashion needs to be explained to said dishwasher). The main reason why is that in a biochemistry lab, "dirty dish" could mean a piece of glassware that retains trace amounts of highly toxic or dangerous compounds, something that requires a special approach to truly clean it (I'm looking at you, leftover agarose and lipid residue), or just a routine item. The person who should know the best way to deal with the dirty dishware is the person who generated the dirty dish. A naive undergraduate is unlikely to be aware of these distinctions, and besides, in a lot of cases, undergraduates have never actually learned how to wash dishes - here I'm referring to cooking and eating dishes.

As for organizing - it's very hard to organize a space if you don't know what various items are called, or what they are used for. By now it drives me crazy if the forceps are labeled "tweezers."

Now I should go back to the lab and actually mix up those solutions.


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