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Dealing with Lab Stress

Today’s guest post is a contribution from Seán Mac Fhearraigh, PhD. Seán was a PhD student at University College Dublin & a post-doc a Cambridge University where he studied mechanisms of cell division. Currently Seán run’s an ELISA assay company where you can find some great information on ELISA assay protocols and ELISA kits.

No matter what day of the week it is, whether it’s Monday and you have just arrived into the lab or it’s Saturday night and you still haven’t left the lab, the stress of experiments never leaves you. Mainly due to experiments not working and deadlines, or lab meetings inching ever closer, the cycle of stress associated with experiments can soon consume your thoughts. Endless thought cycles of whether your experiments will work, what you might need to do to optimize them, or what experiment you will have to do next after your current experiment is completed.

Therefore managing your stress levels can be key to maintaining a clarity of mind. In order to reduce your stress levels, you first need to identify where the source of stress is coming from. Often many post-docs/PhD students undertake multiple experiments at the same time, with the idea of achieving more in a reduced amount of time. However, increasing workload will not directly correlate with increased output of results, your Nature paper will not come any sooner!

Applying the 80:20 rule to your experiments may yield greater results and therefore reduce your stress levels. The idea of the 80:20 approach to experiments is to carry out the key experiments that demand 20% of your time but give 80% or results, or make your boss happy 80% of the time! In other words, identify the experiments that are the most important in progressing your project forward or getting closer to your paper and don’t stress about the rest.

Changing your lifestyle can also hugely reduce your stress levels in the lab. Surprisingly, arriving to the lab on time at 9am will be beneficial to your work output. While most post-docs are still in bed dreaming about experiments or on their bike on the way to work, arriving into the lab early will motivate you for the day; furthermore it will motivate you to leave at a reasonable time and fill your day to the max instead of meaninglessly browsing on your laptop. Arriving on time to work will also give you a proper eating routine, instead of spending your day hypoglycemic stressing about whether the canteen on campus will still be open, having lunch at a regular time will remove one less stress about when you are going to eat.
Leaving the lab at a reasonable hour will also allow you to have a social life, Skype your family, go out with friends or even go the gym and work out. Working late into the night in the lab surrounded by mice, fish, worms or complaining to your lab mates about your PI or how your experiments have not worked will just stress you even further.

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