Tag Archives: microbiology

“Face to face”

Sometimes your chair can be just too comfortable

It can be all too easy to sit in front of a computer all day, allowing yourself to be sucked in by a vortex of emails, playing to the tune of other people’s agendas, and from which it is difficult to escape as work fatigue sets in. We become hypnotised by the screen and frozen to our chairs.

Or if you are a scientist, you might feel compelled to sit all morning at the bench reading agar plates, without any hope of reprieve…

So one of my resolutions for 2018 is more face to face time. Less time in front of a screen and more time talking to people, building relationships, and breaking down barriers. By this I don’t mean more formal meetings, just more informal chats, and not necessarily about work!

Sure, there will always be periods where I need to be in front of a computer:- reading articles, reviewing or writing laboratory policy, checking emails, analysing data, etc. But I want to ensure that this is the minority of my working day, not the majority.

The same applies if you are working at a bench. If you have a mountain of culture plates to read, or samples to set up, then the risk of boredom and consequent errors is a genuine one. Make sure such work is punctuated by occasional wandering and chats to your colleagues. Discuss possible ways to make the laboratory process more efficient, or just talk about what you got up to at the weekend! And never, ever feel compelled to stay at your bench just because your boss is sitting in the office nearby. This is not school anymore!

Being an introvert, I am not a natural conversationalist, but this year I am going to force myself out of my comfort zone. Disagreements with colleagues, which are inevitable from time to time,  are so much easier to navigate through if you have a good working relationship with them.

To quote the often used cliche. “Nobody has ever said on their deathbed ‘I wish I had spent more time in the office/at the bench.‘”

But it’s absolutely true.

So in 2018 I will endeavour to seek more face to face time, assuming I can find somebody who is not busy sending emails or reading plates…



“Putting your job into perspective”

My baby daughter recently had open heart surgery at just two weeks of age, to repair a serious congenital heart defect (Tetralogy of Fallot). She was desperately sick in the days leading up to the surgery, and required several weeks of convalescence afterwards.

They don’t like doing open heart surgery at such a young age, but decided that this was the lesser of the evils…

On the day of the surgery she was really struggling, despite being in intensive care on maximal therapy. I never thought I would be glad to see my daughter wheeled off to theatre to be put on cardiac bypass.

Fortunately everything went well, and she is now 10 weeks old. She is doing all the things that 10 week old babies should be doing. Except for the scar on her chest, you would not even know what she has been through.

She is, quite literally, a little miracle.

Now things are getting back to normal. I am back at work, and able to think clearly again.

During the long days and nights in the neonatal intensive care unit, my microbiology job was the furthest thing from my mind.

But the whole experience has helped me put my job, and to a large extent my career into perspective.

And I am very aware that my family and I are not the only ones who have been through the emotional wringer. Most people have had major life events at some time or other; bereavements, births, severe illness, redundancy, divorce, etc., etc.

We all have our struggles…

So in future, whenever my workload is starting to feel heavy, I will think to myself “Compared to recent events in life, this is a walk in the park.”

And whenever I am asked to take on extra responsibilities, I will think to myself “I have a young baby to look after and care for. What work responsibilities can possibly be greater than that?”

And if I need to take the odd risk in order to develop and progress the microbiology department that I work in, I will think to myself “This is not a life or death situation. What is the worst that can happen…?”

Sometimes our mind plays tricks with us with regards to the challenges we face at work, to the degree that they start to become stressful and all encompassing.

When work life gets tough, then reflect on your other life, the more important one, and put your job into perspective. 


“Back to the Coalface”


I have just returned from a 5 week road trip across the USA with my wife and 5 children. What a trip! Lots of adventures were had. Sure, it was tiring and stressful on occasion (we got lost several times), but never dull. We saw a lot of places, experienced many different landscapes, and encountered lots of different people, the whole spectrum of American society. 

And at the end there was a nice sense of achievement in getting everybody across the country in one piece!

It was great to experience all the different cultures, the small towns (mostly pro-Trump!), the big cities, and the native Indian settlements, all interesting in their own way.

But the biggest culture shock of all has been coming back to work!

Back to my cubicle, back to signing out wound swabs, back to phone calls about multi-resistant urines, back to laboratory politics, back to emails and meetings….

It all seems a bit mundane after the US. Hopefully the motivation will come back in due course.

And who knows, I might even write about microbiology in my next post!