Back to the labs…

By Marie-Laure Bagard

Here we go, we have spent several weeks crafting countless risk assessments and working on new protocols to make the labs safe, the University has authorised the re-opening of the buildings and essential lab work to be carried out, so lab work can resume… Can’t it ?

Lab work actually seems to be a whole different ball game than it was before the pandemic. Working mostly in a laboratory suite made of several individual clean rooms, I thought that not much would change for our group. Making the place covid-19 safe wasn’t too tricky. Setting up a buddy system to make sure that people working alone wouldn’t harm themselves wasn’t exactly a challenge. But how do you work in a clean lab when you can’t chat with your lab mates -often friends- while your columns are dripping ? How do you learn how to use a mass spec when you can’t pop your head into the lab manager’s office to check that the weird behaviour of the instrument is actually its normal behaviour (office work still being off-limits) ? Of course, you can send them a message, but online chats will never replace all these informal interactions that set the tempo of our work days and teach us so much.

And beyond, it is actually most of the social life of our department that we have to do without. How do you avoid melting down in front of a temperamental plasma if you can’t go down to the common room for a coffee break ? (Or happy hour !) Or if you simply can’t go to your office for a chat with you officemates ? Lab work, like many other aspects of research, is much more than the addition of a few tasks carried out in a bubble, and this pandemic forces us all to learn new ways of working, of being a research group, and being there for each other.

How have things been for you ? Are you still working from home ? Are you back in the labs ? What are your tips for adjusting to the new rules and all that they entail ?

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