Lab Politics and Post-it Notes (Not quite I Lick My Cheese)

In a shared house or flat, notes are often left to pass on information, claim ownership, or discourage others from eating your food (see I Lick My Cheese, a brilliant book). In a communal lab, notes are also left to offer instructions as to how the lab should run, pass on info, claim ownership and discourage others from nicking your stuff.

I use a communal tissue culture lab where most people use the lab for limited amounts of time (30mins or so) to culture their cells and then they go elsewhere to do their experiments. My experiments involve me spending longer periods of time in the tissue culture hood (HOURS). On my own. It is mind numbingly boring. So we introduced a radio. A lot of labs have radios, this is not unusual (the lab next door has a radio, usually on so loud that we can hear the bass thudding through the wall, 'the party lab').

I didn't think it was a big deal, everyone in the tissue culture lab is pretty friendly and says hello to each other. The protocols for radios in labs usually run so the radio is on, but if someone wants the radio off, they either turn it off or say 'I am turning the radio off'. No biggie. Everyone understands that not everyone wants the radio on.

The radio was in the lab for a couple of days, when, out of no-where, without any warning, THIS APPEARED.

Firstly, it was not MY CHOICE of music, it was the local radio station, which is RUBBISH admittedly but there is very limited radio reception with a £5 radio from the tissue culture lab. Secondly, NO ONE had mentioned that they found the radio too loud or wanted to turn it off. I had seen others using the radio when I was not in the lab. Thirdly, the note was anonymous which annoyed me greatly. Why leave an anonymous note? It makes it impossible to discuss the issue and reach a compromise agreement.

So, I posted a reply,

This note went up in the morning, by the afternoon it had vanished. No response. We continued to use the radio. Two weeks later, this happened...

Oh look, it is the radio. WITHOUT A POWER CORD. SOMEONE TOOK THE POWER CORD!!! We are a few months on now, there is still no sign of the power cord or the mystery note poster.... for a bunch of adults to behave in this way (there were no undergrad students around at the time) is absolutely ridiculous. I am pretty sure that this is not an isolated experience. Working in a lab can be like living with people at times (who forgot to do their washing up?!) Please share any stories you have that are along these lines!  For further amusement I am posting these notes, which are also found in that same lab.

To the Enthusiastic Chloros user -

There really are NO PRIZES in this lab:

THERE IS EVEN A NOTE ON THE BIN (notice how it is being ignored)


  1. I despise the whole business of notes and poor communication between either lab users, or departmental facilities. Unfortunately, scientists are cats, and will neither be herded, nor told. Sociable peer-to-peer discourse is to encouraged in a world where righteous indignation poured into note-form is king.

    In my lab we have no notes except on booking sheets. In areas where labs share facilities, anonymous notes are also not permitted; people wanting to address an issue must speak to the senior technician.

    Petty theft is theft, and unfortunately there is a lot of it in academic departments. Sometimes thought to be seemingly harmless, but other times malicious. In one of my old labs someone used to steal the knob to the centrifuge if they wanted to ensure it was free for their use. The result was that that user was banned from using the lab centrifuge.

    These are all matters for lab and staff meetings.

  2. Yes, totally agree. The problem with this lab is that it is communal, so several groups use it. Our lab is note free and we discuss problems in lab meetings. There is also no set 'owner' for the lab through which all the users can be contacted and brought together (despite efforts from me to sort this). So communication is in note form.

    If the lab did have a leader and a few organised meetings a year there would be no need for all this petty note business!

  3. Woah woah woah, woah! What's wrong with Greigsy followed by good old John Mellis? That's prime time radio that is. Aye alrite, maybe not ...

  4. I hate these kind of notes - all rather tediously passive-aggressive. As Jim says, airing this stuff is what lab meetings are for.

    Sometimes it is just "transference" for people who have, er "issues" with their co-workers. Long ago when I worked at the NIH in the States I had a protracted battle with a lady in the next lab who said my music choice was "putting her off her work". After sneaking into her lab when our CD player was on full bore, and confirming that it was completely inaudible, I just ignored her. Obviously there was no reason why she necessarily shouldn't dislike me, but equally there was no reason why I necessarily had to take any notice.

    Finally, I have known a few people in University labs (and at all levels, up to and including Senior Lecturer!) that had a tendency to "lift" stuff off benches/out of freezers, including pipettes, reagents etc. Needless to say these people were not popular with their colleagues. And, given that there are few secrets in Univs, such folk usually find that there are consequences - notably that, when they need help, they will find it hard to come by.

    What goes around, comes around, and all that.

  5. There was a grumpy Italian in my lab who used to like stealing the power cord from the radio too. This is clearly his M.O. he is becoming more ambitious in his plans to rid the world of music... and/or build himself a nest out of power cords.

  6. Someone really took the power cord??? Jesus. That's over the top. It was never on loud - I am next door (not the party lab, although I do enjoy their music too :) ) And the walls are thin enough that I can hear people talking so I would have heard a loudly played radio.

    This was a bone of contention in the last lab I worked in and I dislike how people who don't like background music always triumph. I find it difficult to do some tasks without it, my mind wonders and I screw up. Silence does not rule.

    The evil in me says find the person and cough in their cells :)

    Get a wind up radio (they have them in Asda).


  7. I found your blog via askabiologist, then twitter, then arrived here. Whoever left the note and (presumably) took the cord needs to learn how to communicate like an adult. I'm annoyed on your behalf!

  8. Well here we are nearly a year on. Despite emails and request there is still no sign of the power cable and we are still radio-less. Sad faces all round in our Tissue Culture lab :-(

  9. Buy another radio cord and start using it. But this time buy a cheap external webcam and attach it to some old laptop. Leave laptop its webcam turned on and recording. To make it inconspicuous, close off the lid of the laptop.
    Everyday or every other day, clean up the recorded video... until one day you cannot find the power cord any more. When that happens, review the video. Identify the culprit.
    Then without making it obvious, call a lab meeting, and challenge the wrong-doer to step up and claim the responsibility. If s/he does not stand up, address him/her directly. Charge him/her with theft and get him/her kicked out of the lab.


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