Lab Best Practices: 10 Ways to Be an MVP in Your Lab | Lab Maintenance | Corning

Sharing a lab is kind of like sharing an apartment. There are great roommates (or labmates) and not-so-great ones. And sure, everyone knows the basics of lab best practices, but what about the unspoken rules—the ones you might not even know about until you've broken them? Those are the real landmines.

Beyond just being a bother, poor lab etiquette can lead to flubbed experiments and unsafe environments. The stereotype of the impolite benchmate is so persistent, in fact, that Nature wrote about the phenomenon in 2017.

So for the good of research and of fellow researchers everywhere, aim to be the best labmate you can be. These 10 tips can help you get there.

1. Mind the inventory.

If you notice the supply closet's running low on Petri dishes or media, let the lab manager know. If you're able to reorder stuff yourself, do it. That way, the shelves stay stocked for everyone.

2. Fess up to your mistakes.

If you lose or break something, say something. A broken vial of biohazardous materials is a dangerous problem. Notify the team so that you can maintain a safe, sterile environment.

3. Keep the noise down.

You might have tics that you're not aware of. Maybe you talk yourself through counts or experiments. Just be aware of your volume level, and be respectful of your labmates, who might like a quieter environment. And take any cellphone calls outside.

4. Don't play garbage Jenga.

A precarious tower of trash is a mess waiting to happen. If the garbage needs to be taken out, take it out. It only takes a few seconds, and everyone will thank you for the good deed.

5. Wear the right shoes.

Leave the flip-flops at home: You'll need closed-toe shoes with well-gripping soles for lab work. Note, too, that many labs require separate indoor shoes to prevent tracking in snow, dirt, and mud.

6. Label everything.

Add names, dates, and specifics (such as whether the material requires refrigeration) on substances and equipment. Color coding can help! Label more than just the lids, too—lids can always get separated from their main vessel.

7. Follow protocol.

If your lab hasn't established setup and teardown protocols, volunteer to help draft them. Knowing the ground rules of using, cleaning, storing, and maintaining lab equipment—not to mention documenting experiments—can help everyone stay on the same page.

8. Mind the little things.

It might not seem like a big deal to you, but a missing pen or marker can infuriate a researcher in need. If you borrow something, even if it's small, ask for permission and return it promptly.

9. Respect others' need to focus.

You might be able to chit-chat while vacuuming solution into a pipet, but that doesn't mean everyone has the same knack for multitasking. If someone is trying to concentrate, save the small talk for later.

10. Don't hoard equipment.

If there's not already a sign-up sheet for coveted lab equipment, volunteer to make one. A sign-up sheet can make sure everyone gets the resource they need when they need it, even if they're too shy to speak up to claim it.

Check Your Own Bad Habits

It can take time — and maybe some trial and error — to learn the specific rules of any given lab. Even the most experienced scientists can keep up bad habits — sometimes for years — without ever noticing them.

That's why you should check your own lab presence once in a while, just to make sure you haven't picked up any pesky habits that are annoying your labmates.

The next time you're in lab, ask yourself: Are you following these 10 tips, or are you falling short? Chances are that there'll be something to improve.