Rolling Up My Sleeves

by Lorien E. Menhennett

It’s my second summer here at the research lab. Which means I know my way around: which elevators run the fastest, which coffee shop makes the strongest coffee, which room has the best air conditioning. It also means I feel more a part of the lab culture, and that I get to do really important tasks. Like cleaning.

Yes, I’m being serious. Cleaning is a major part of running a lab. Otherwise, samples and supplies get contaminated. And that does not bode well for the success of very expensive experiments.

This is not the sink that I actually cleaned out – it’s an image
I found on the Internet – but it looks JUST like it.

Last week, I helped another researcher, Tim, wipe down an incubator (a warming unit used to store cells) with bleach and alcohol, and also cleaned some cabinets, shelves, and a sink so we could better organize our lab space.

Of course, if I spent all my time here cleaning, I wouldn’t be all that happy. But I know it’s part of the job. It has a purpose. And I treat it like I would any other task here.

So when people tell me that I have no idea what research is really like, when they question my desire to further pursue it (along with clinical medicine), I don’t listen to them.

Do I know what it’s like to spend years on a single research project? No. I can’t know that without actually doing it. There’s a bit of a catch-22 there. But I do know the frustration of experiments not yielding results. I know what it’s like to spend hours in a hot room pipetting samples into tiny tubes for PCR. I know what it’s like to “hurry up and wait,” as my Grandma would say. I know what it’s like to glove up and scrub years of black grime off an ancient sink so it can be used again. And yet, I still want to do this. Because I also know the excitement of discovery, and even more basic than that, of asking questions and seeking out answers. Research gives you a place to do that. Am I crazy? Probably so. But I figure I’m in good company. Oh, and if you decide to put me in a padded room, would you at least let me bring an Eppendorf pipette set? It would mean the world to me.