Welcome to the May newsletter article of the YSSC! It seems a bit strange to talk about routine in times where it does not really exist for most of us and daily life is still turned upside down. Maybe this is a good time to bring it up, because some of us might miss our routine. The day in day out, the go to the lab and the do the jobs. Well, in reality, more: Wanting to start the jobs and then finding out that favourite colleague forgot to make up more buffer they used up when you really need it. Oh well, the joy of having multiple people in the lab at the same time. You could complain loudly and someone would hear it! It might not lead to improvement, but liberation for you in that very moment.
So what’s good about having a routine at work? As most things we discuss here, this is of course very subjective and you can either agree or disagree with what we write. That would mean we got you thinking about it and actually that’s all we want. So back to it!
Sometimes it is nice to know what to expect when you arrive at work. It gives you a certain sense of security, stability, even confidence. When you know what you are doing, you get faster and more efficient. At the same time, your brain has time to think about other things and new ideas might come up (obviously whilst still concentrating). This last point is exactly why it might be a disadvantage to have a routine. When you do the same thing repeatedly you get bored, which reduces motivation. Moreover, you might lose focus, because you start doing things on autopilot, not reflecting your moves or questioning whether this is good the way it is or could be optimized.
An interesting phenomenon about routine is that when different people perform the same method routinely in the same lab, but independent from each other, you may find that everyone adds their own tweaks to the protocol. Suddenly you end up with three different ways for doing a Western blot. Each person is totally convinced by his or her way, because that obviously works. There is nothing wrong with that, it just shows what can happen during routine. Whoever has changed labs before has likely experienced this and has found that there is more than one way for most methods.
So what’s the bottom line here? Well, reflection! Enjoying a routine is great, just make sure you keep your eyes open. Don`t forget: you are a scientist, not a robot! Bringing up methods in lab meeting presentations, asking what certain steps in a protocol are for now and then can help keeping yourself and others aware of the way you are doing things and why. Don`t be put off by sentences like: “We have always done it like that”. Some people may seem annoyed by questions on well-established things but, at the end of the day, you are not blaming anyone. Routine is normal, but that should not stop us from questioning. Who knows? You might uncover something that is going wrong (unintentionally) and you can help prevent yourself and colleague from running down a rabbit hole.
Stay scientific…and healthy!