Tag Archives: microbiology employee

“Manipulating your microbiology job…”

“New Yorker Cartoons”

I haven’t always been passionate about microbiology. As a student there were a lot of more interesting things on my mind. So it was somewhat of a surprise when I found out I was going to be a microbiologist…

None of my six children want to be microbiologists. Even my 1 year old daughter shows little interest in microorganisms! I am sure they will find their own passions in life, and I will support them, whatever they choose to do (I may draw the line at real estate however…)

So microbiology is my work passion. Or to put it another way (and more realistically), there are some areas of clinical microbiology that I am passionate about. I love the concept of diagnostic stewardship, mainly because I hate unnecessary wastage. I enjoy antimicrobial stewardship, because I don’t mind taking responsibility for my actions, and mistakes. I  find microbiology automation and molecular diagnostics fascinating, because I have always been someone who looks forward to the future as opposed to looking back at the past. I have a keen interest in the diagnosis and psychology of sexually transmitted infections, mainly because I live a sheltered life!

I quite enjoy doing data analysis, probably because I loved mathematics at school. I much prefer writing protocols as opposed to following them, likely the result of a rebellious personality. I love challenging traditional microbiological methods and processes, simply because there is so much dogma and inefficiency to challenge. And I don’t mind teaching, because I quite enjoy showing off whatever knowledge I have!

But there are plenty of things I am not passionate about with regards to microbiology. I have no interest in the 10 different carbapenemase genes most commonly found in New Zealand, because I have never been a details person. I am not much good at leading research, because I simply don’t have the patience or persistence. And I am not a big fan of meetings because I am not a great talker. I also believe in the mantra that the productivity of any committee is inversely proportional to the number of members it contains. 

There are usually many facets to a job in microbiology, whether you are a technician, scientist, or clinical microbiologist. You can be sure that you won’t love them all. I don’t believe anyone loves absolutely everything they do on a daily basis. Lucky for them if they do. 

I think the key is to slowly but surely manoeuvre, or fashion your job, into one where the majority of stuff you are doing each day are things you are passionate about. This may involve volunteering to take extra pieces of work on, but also actively seeking to drop things you have no interest in. It is a long process, but one we should approach conciously.

There would be no point in me spending the majority of my days doing research or sitting in tedious committee meetings. That would drive me insane.

If you can spend two thirds of your working day doing things you love doing, you are not too far off the mark.  Have you managed to manipulate your job into one you love? The alternative of course is to get another job, but often exactly the same principles apply. Every job has lots of different facets. We cannot possibly love them all…


“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…



“The Microbiology Employee”

If you have or are planning to have a career in microbiology, it is important to realise that you are very unlikely to become rich from it. If that is your goal, you would be better off doing something else.

Most microbiology technicians, scientists and clinical/medical microbiologists are employees, being paid a fixed salary to dutifully carry out their job description as dictated in their contract. A good proportion of microbiology employees are still employed by the public sector, although this depends on the area/country you work in. For the increasing number who work in the private sector, centralisation, mergers, & takeovers mean that those that work for private laboratories are increasingly employed by large “commercial” corporations.

There are not really too many openings for private enterprise/self employment within the field of clinical microbiology, unless of course you want to live in the pockets of the corporate pharmaceutical or equipment suppliers.

For the braver, there might be the opportunity to sharehold in a private laboratory company. For the extremely brave, there is always the possibility of setting up your own private laboratory.

A few people do some freelance work on lean laboratory management, infection control or something similar,but in essence most of the microbiology community at present are employees of one sort or other.

I think there a few important things to remember about being an employee, not just in microbiology but in any walk of life.

  • Linchpin: Try and be a linchpin. An employee who is a linchpin is one who colleagues turn to to make decisions, to troubleshoot, to create new ideas and to show them the way forward. In short they are difficult for employers to replace easily. All employees should at least attempt to be linchpins. Personally I try my best for this goal, not always with the success I would like. (Check out this great book for more on linchpins)
  • Thinking different: Linchpins are generally not linchpins because they work harder or work longer. They are linchpins because they think differently and add something extra to the workplace.
  • Disposability: With the above in mind, it is important however to remember that nobody is indispensable, linchpins included. No matter how much you are paid, what you do, or how much you do of it, there will always be someone else out there ready and willing to take your place. It is important to be aware of this in your relationship with your employer.
  • Moving on: Along the same lines, the employee should not feel unduly upset about moving on. Laboratories, institutions, and corporations will roll on quite happily in your absence.  Have relationships with people, not employers.
  • Job Security: A job for life is becoming distinctly less common. Laboratory centralisation, privatisation and tendered contracts have seen to that. Keep your CV handy!
  • Job Description: Even if you do feel relatively secure in your job, you can absolutely guarantee that in 20 years time your microbiology job description will have changed out of all recognition. Prepare yourself for this eventuality.

And of course we all want more pay, I don’t know many people who don’t! But we have to try our very best to justify what we do receive.