Letting go

In the last couple of days, I have noticed that I’ve been a little in denial about the fact that I’m leaving the lab for good.  The first moment of realization came when I started cleaning out my shelf in the -20 freezer.  I had kept every cut plasmid and purified insert that I had used for cloning over my entire graduate career (because, yes, I did sometimes reuse them in other cloning projects).  I had also kept a large number of genomic DNA preps, diluted primers, vectors that had been linearized for integration into the genome and PCR products.  In all, I had around 12 boxes of this stuff.  And it was hard–really, really hard–to just throw it in the garbage can.  I kept thinking, “But, what if I need this?”

See, I’m a packrat.  A major packrat.  I have a very difficult time getting rid of things so it’s a good thing I’ve moved every 4 years or so because that forces me to purge my belongings.  Usually, all I have to do is consider the likelihood that I’ll use an item again and compare that to how much I really want to have to pack it in a box.  When my husband moved to California, it was even easier because I had to look at an item and decide if I really wanted to pay to ship it clear across the country.

In the case of lab, it should be even more cut and dried.  I’m leaving.  I’m not just leaving this lab, I’m leaving benchwork.  I am not ever planning on working in a lab again.  Therefore, I absolutely do not need any of this stuff.  Not a bit of it.  I had to keep telling myself that, though, while I threw out old plates and precultures from the cold room and cloning intermediates from the freezer and files in my desk.  I’d say, “But what if I need it?” and then wonder under what circumstances in my post-lab life I could possibly need the manual from a Qiagen miniprep kit.  I still can’t force myself to throw out my NEB catalog, though.  That thing has been my companion and reference book for so long, it would be like throwing away a part of myself.  And who knows, maybe one day I’ll be making dinner and I will suddenly really want to know if you can do a double digest with BamHI and HindIII.  Granted, this seems highly unlikely, but you never know.  I just can’t part with it.  Maybe after a year or so of being out of the lab I will be able to throw it out.

The thing of it is that, including the years I spent as a tech, I’ve spent about the last 12 years of my life working at a lab bench.  And, while I’m still certain I do not want to do a post-doc, leaving the lab bench has me feeling a little scared and a lot sad.  Don’t get me wrong.  I am overjoyed at the fact that when I go on vacation I will no longer have to ask someone to look after my yeast plates as well as my pet.  I am thrilled beyond measure that I will never again need to do a ritual dance around the PCR machine or have such bad lab karma that I get my grandmother to send me a bottle of holy water which I then proceed to wipe down my bench with because it’s either that or sit in a corner and cry.  I will never again stomp into lab and shout, “For the love of Qiagen, why can’t people clean up after themselves when they spill a culture in the shaking incubator?  Why???”

But there are plenty of things that I will miss, too.  I’ll miss going to see a really good seminar and then coming back to the lab to discuss it.  I’ll miss being in the lab when someone finally, finally gets the result she’s been waiting for and she runs through the lab screaming, “I did it!  I did it!” while waving a picture of a western blot.  I’ll miss being the person waving a picture of a western blot.

And so, I imagine that when I wipe down my lab bench for the very last time, there will be a few tears shed.

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7 thoughts on “Letting go

  1. I am totally with you on this! As my time here is winding down I am getting a bit sad – even though I am excited to leave and get on with things. It just happens when you’ve been somewhere, or been doing something, for so long. It becomes a part of you. Even if the experience as a whole wasn’t a good one, there are always good/great/amazing parts that you’ll miss.

  2. I’ve been doing a bit of the same… I had to clean out a bit to move from my lab bench (my 4th bench in as many years) to the designated pregnant woman quarantine lab I now call home, but there’s a lot more stuff to clean out that’s still untouched. My 4C shelf in the cold room will be painful, as will my collection of transgenics… my -20C boxes are also full of linearized vectors, primer dilutions and other assorted stuff I thought no one else would bother keeping (nice to know I’m not alone in that!). I’m looking forward to the feeling of a good purge, but I’m sure more than a few tears will be shed on my part too. There will always be things you’ll miss, but you’ll find new things to love in wherever life takes you.

  3. I hope your last day goes well. It’s always hard to leave stuff behind. I’ve really liked reading about your time in grad school. I’m sure I’m not the only one who is rooting for you as you take this next step. I feel like we should all be invited to your defense when you finish to help you celebrate. We’ll just have to have a virtual celebration.

    Good luck and keep us posted!!!

  4. I personally have a shrine to Jobu over my very-expensive-equipment. I also have various lucky objects that sit over my lab bench. Ah, scientists, we’re so LOGICAL. 🙂

  5. Wow, I don’t know whether to feel better or worse that even someone who WANTS to leave benchwork has trouble with the actual process of leaving.

  6. apparently a lot of students go through a period of depression once they actually finish their PhDs and defend. i think it partly has to do with an identity crisis … as in, who am i now ? other than a newly minted phd… i went through that phase, and i’ve met others who have too. i guess it’s considered normal but it’s not fun. depends on if you have something lined up so that it distracts you. (aside: hi ms. phd !!)

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