This week the Wayne lab underwent a team-building exercise: cleaning out the lab’s seven freezers and one refrigerator. While this is a monumental task, it was much easier to tackle as an entire lab group, especially given that our group is almost 15 people.
A few things kept us sane throughout this multi-day endeavor. For one, our advisor paid for the lab’s lunch each day we worked on freezers plus treated us to a happy hour at the end. Also being able to laugh about the absurdity of some of the things we found in the freezers. A small subset includes:
- Samples from before I was born
- Pike fish samples (currently we only study mammals)
- Whole abalone (again not a mammal)
- Wolf tissue from Croatia
- An entire dead opossum
- Just the head of a skunk
But the most important thing for me was having compassion for the choices of lab mates past and present, including ourselves. Of course, a big part of freezer cleanup was dealing with poorly labeled and/or stored samples. Which can be quite infuriating when you’re dealing with your twelfth bag of random tubes of canid blood. What kept me going was remembering that everyone is just trying to do their best.
In these moments I try to channel the sentiment of this article “Laziness Does Not Exist But Unseen Barriers Do.” I doubt anyone actively wanted to label their tubes with scotch tape, but perhaps that was the only tape they had on hand or they just haven’t had to deal with tubes from a -80C freezer where the tape label is falling off. Tubes with very limited labels were likely those of people who thought, “I don’t have time to label these tubes, but I’m coming back to them soon and I’ll DEFINITELY remember what the deal is with them.” Narrator: “They did not.”
I know this is likely the case because I have totally been guilty of most of these kinds of moves. So, this week was an exercise in forgiving lab mates including me for all the times we made not the best decisions in storing our samples. This week was a sincere group bonding experience. Over lunches we not only game planed freezer work but also caught up on each others’ projects and personal lives. We laughed about when a bag of whole abalone ripped and spilled abalone in the elevator. Over the happy hour we talked about what we’ll do for our next lab retreat. And we celebrated what an amazing collective effort we achieved.