“You know you’ve worked in the lab too long when…”

I got a fascinating list – titled as above – that I could just nod my head to – from my dear wife, who collected it from an emailed newsletter she received from a professional body (N.B. PDF here, open at Page 22, if you are reaaaaally interested. Else, it’s all below).

As a matter of habit, I started looking for the source; I searched Google with the title. And lo! And Behold! What jumps up but Linda Lin’s brilliant post with the same title and photos and all, posted early last year! I felt so sad for not having discovered that gem sooner. To assuage my grief, I promptly (of course!) joined the Facebook group that she mentioned in her post.

I also fondly recollected how much fun I had, dropping various microliter volumes of water onto the remaining liquid nitrogen in an ice bucket, to watch the water freeze instantly into globules of ice. Another perennial favorite has been to pour some dry ice in the sink and turn the water on, to make white, cold, billowy smoke. Sigh!

But I understand. We are busy scientists, and can’t go running to find every little thing, can we? So here is a definitive list, compiled from above-mentioned, multiple sources, for your kind perusal and enjoyment.

“You know you’ve worked in the lab too long when…”


  1. You say “mills” and “migs”. ✔
  2. You say “orders of magnitude” in regular sentences. ✔
  3. You say “conjugation” instead of “sex”, and “pili” sounds dirty.
  4. You can no longer spell normal words but have no trouble with spelling things like immunohistochemistry or deoxyribonucleic acid.
  5. You refer to your children as the F1.
  6. You think the following is a quality insult: “I’ve seen cells more competent than you!”
  7. You use acronyms for everything and never stop to elaborate. ✔
  8. You use the word “aliquot” in regular sentences, especially with reference to tea, coffee or curry. ✔
  9. You flinch when you hear the word “significant”. ✔
  10. For you, media is something which increases your culture.
  11. When you hear tween, you think of the surfactant not the age group. ✔
  12. You are fed up of people saying alcohol, when they mean ethanol.
  13. SOB is not an insult; it’s what you grow your bugs in.
  14. You actually threaten your cells whilst waving a bottle of virkon or some other disinfectant.
  15. You give the lab equipment motivational pep talks: “Work for me today or I’ll reprogram you with a fire axe” is my favorite. ✔


  1. You’ve seen how far away you can hit a target with a squirty water bottle or seeing how far away from the bin you can fire pipette tips. ✔
  2. You still get amusement out of “freezing” things in liquid nitrogen. ✔
  3. You rejoice when grabbing a handful of eppendorfs/bijous/anything and it turns outs to be the exact number you needed. ✔
  4. You decide the courses and conference you want to go on by the quality of the food served. ✔
  5. When you start making patterns in your pipette tip box as you take the tips out. ✔
  6. You’ve played Battleship using tip boxes.
  7. You’ve used, “I’d like to get into your genes” as a pickup line.
  8. You have made some kind of puppet out of a nitrile glove and kept it as a pet. ✔
  9. The scent of latex reminds you of work, not play.


  1. Safety equipment is optional unless it makes you look cool. ✔
  2. A timer clipped to the hip is not only practical, but dead sexy.
  3. People wearing shorts under a lab coat disturb you slightly as they look as though they might be naked underneath. ✔
  4. You can tell what cheap and expensive white coats look like.
  5. You hate having to change your lab coat to a new one because ‘it just won’t fit right’ and because the wrist bits are way too tight.
  6. You’ve never worn a clean lab coat.
  7. You have an irresistible urge to rip your shirt off superman style because it has press stud fasteners just like your lab coat… Most often occurring as you walk through a door just like exiting the lab… (I prefer to apply the Hulk style to disposable PPE) ✔
  8. You’ve left the lab wearing a piece of PPE (personal protective equipment) because you forgot you had it on. ✔
  9. You consider a green laser pointer to be science bling. ✔
  10. You own Invitrogen t-shirts and actually wear them. ✔

Kitchen and home skillz:

  1. No matter what the timings in the experiment protocol, there is always time for lunch in the middle.
  2. When you organize your kitchen cupboard contents the way you would your chemicals… all labeled in alphabetical order.
  3. Although all cooking is a glorified chemistry experiment you just still can’t seem to get it right.
  4. You’re also very good at transferring small amounts of liquid between containers. ✔
  5. You’re very good at diluting things. ✔
  6. When your fruits go bad and you get fruit flies, you can’t help but check their eye color.
  7. You open the toothpaste with one hand.
  8. You want to have parafilm at home too. ✔
  9. You wonder what absolute alcohol tastes like with orange juice.


  1. Showing up at 10AM and having a coffee is a productive day. ✔
  2. You’ve worked out that a trained chimp could probably do 90% of your job. ✔
  3. You always seem to use the microscope after the person with the impossibly close-set eyes. ✔
  4. When you say goodnight to your microscope on a Friday night and tearfully hug it goodbye as you won’t see it all weekend.
  5. You can identify organs on roadkills. ✔
  6. You can’t wait for lab clean-up because you get to do random pointless “experiments” to figure out what’s in all the dodgy unlabeled bottles.

Accidents & discomfort:

  1. Accident reports are a badge of honor.
  2. Warning labels invoke curiosity rather than caution.
  3. Blinking real fast has saved your eyesight on more than one occasion.
  4. Burning eyes, nose and throat indicate that you haven’t actually turned on the fumehood/ downdraft bench.
  5. Liquid nitrogen is only about a 1/3 as dangerous as you thought.
  6. You bitch about not being able to pipette by mouth any more. ✔
  7. When you wonder: how much will it hurt if I pour just a smidgen of this phenol/chloroform/ trichloroacetic acid/ any random chemical on myself?
  8. The fire alarm ceases to bug you. You only evacuate when you see the fire. (Hand on the floor to check for heat is a good indicator.) ✔

C’est la vie:

  1. No one in your family has any idea what you do. ✔
  2. Sometime you momentarily vanish from social activities because of a time-point. ✔
  3. The front page of Science is your light reading.
  4. You realize that almost anything can be classed as background reading. ✔
  5. When a non-scientist asks you what you do for a living, you roll your eyes and talk science at them until they’ve lost the will to live.
  6. When you rejoice when grabbing a handful of eppendorfs/bijous/anything and it turns outs to be the exact number you needed. ✔
  7. When you’ve got that callus on the side of your thumb from opening PCR tubes (0.5ml and 1.5ml eppendorf tubes for me). ✔
  8. You are strangely proud of the collection of junk you’ve stolen from vendors at trade shows. ✔


  1. You can make a short film in Powerpoint. ✔
  2. You can’t watch CSI without cursing at least one scientific inaccuracy. ✔
  3. You don’t fear rodents, rodents fear you. ✔
  4. You have to check the web to find out what the weather is outside. ✔
  5. You’ve bent down to pick something up off the floor only to scatter the contents of your top pocket under the largest machine in the lab. ✔

Health and Hygiene:

  1. You wash your hands before and after using the washroom.
  2. You’ve suffered carpal tunnel from the pipetman. ✔
  3. You’ve used Kimwipes as Kleenex. ✔
  4. You’ve wondered why you can’t drink distilled water in the lab- shouldn’t it be clean? ✔
  5. Your nose invariably itches when you’re doing mucky stuff with your hands so you develop the habit of scratching it on your upper arm. Unfortunately, you sometimes carry this habit over to real life, where it looks like you’re sniffing your armpits. ✔
  6. You are slightly too fond of the smell of (pick one or many) Xylene/ Agar/ Ethanol/ Undergraduates/ Alcoholic hand-wash.
  7. You’ve removed your gloves to find a small hole which has left you with either – wrinkly old person hands, a brightly colored finger (histologists especially) or a burning sensation and dermatitis at some point.

Enjoy! I realized that I’ve been guilty of many of these many times (especially ones with a check mark!). Don’t forget to write your favorite or add your own in the comments.


  1. Heather Etchevers

    So, Kausik, I’ve clearly worked in the lab too long. The solution is?

    Oh yes, write grants. I guess I am all set now.

    1. and #76 had me laughing out loud. And I am afraid I really do or have done the vast majority of these.
  2. Paolo Gifh


    Maybe I’ll try to translate it for my italian blog, just to find out how many points are suitable for my lab’s behaviour! 

    Eventually, if I need it,  may I ask you the meaning of a couple of jargon terms? 

  3. Alchemystress Alchemystress

     ahahahahahaha awesome! So glad you shared this and I found the face book group too! As a chemist some do not apply but oh man orders of magnitude, Honestly don’t remember the last day I didn’t say that phrase! Thanks for sharing definitly gave me a laugh at the beginning of my day. 

  4. Kausik Datta

    Thank you all. Heather, I hope I never have to write grants. Really.

    Paolo, yes, of course, any time.

    Alchemystress, glad you enjoyed it. Interesting handle! 🙂 

  5. Graham Morehead

    Favorite way to clean the floor:  pour liquid nitrogen from different directions toward one place (perhaps a drain).  It really picks up the dirt.

  6. Alchemystress Alchemystress

     Thanks 😉

  7. Kausik Datta

    Graham… Ahem! 😀

  8. andrea

    #36 you organize your kitchen cupboard contents the way you would your chemicals… all labeled in alphabetical order.
    — You mean there are people who don’t?

    #63 and #18 are repeats!

    #76 Your nose invariably itches when you’re doing mucky stuff with your hands so you develop the habit of scratching it on your upper arm. Unfortunately, you sometimes carry this habit over to real life, where it looks like you’re sniffing your armpits.
    — Should I be relieved that I’m not the only one?

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