PICTURED: 'E.coli growing on agar plates using two different treatments.' -from my phone, during a testing phase.
Going into a job in which I felt over my head, I ended up creating a chemical medium that not only saved our company money on excess materials, but also made the use of the chemical much easier for other technicians and staff.
- This is a bit wordy, and the important parts are in the last 2 paragraphs, but maybe this helps you out. I hope it does.
You just never know
A couple of years ago, I accepted a position akin to a food microbiologist for a laboratory I knew very little about. I'll spare the details of other things that occurred during my tenure and instead, focus on a story that I think we all need to hear.
As a new associate, there wasn't really too much that was expected of me. But I did have previous experience working as a lab technician many years prior in which I was simply mixing various chemical powders, boiling flask of medium, and pouring agar into petri dishes and filling tubes with all sorts of liquids. So all of the 'scien-cy' stuff aside, I want to talk about a little project that I undertook.
Me, the complete newb that I was, noticed that on the bench, we were adding a chemical to this agar to make differentiating bacteria from background material much easier on these mostly translucent petri dishes. Having a good relationship with the crew responsible for setting up the base chemicals for the lab, I was able to divvy up my day between helping them out and doing bench work. I started to experiment with the chemical that we were adding in the main lab with the guys who were preparing the base material. Something clicked.
Too much of this chemical turned our base agar a Kool-Aid red. Too little and the chemical dissipated under heating pressure. After a few batches of figuring out how much of said chemical to add to the base batch, my eyes lit up. It worked. I found a percentage right in the 'Goldilocks' zone that gave us the result that we wanted to achieve. By doing this, we no longer needed to undergo a filtration step ($$) as well as needing to store the chemical in a separate container ($).
I went into the job fearing the fact that all of the other techs/micros had college degrees and various levels of experience. I had nothing more than skills learned from other jobs and curiosity.
The moral of this story is, regardless of where you come from and what you know, you can always bring something to the table. I had to as Senior level Microbiologist for ideas for testing out the chemicals. I also had to ask Lab Technicians for their time and input on how much more or less difficult following this chemical recipe would be. I was always curious about the tasks that I was completing and also felt compelled to see what I could do to make my days more streamlined. Most people had just accepted that this was the one and only way things could be done and I caught A LOT of flack from people who thought I was wasting my time by going forth and doing this. After the testing phase was complete, I was asked to present my finding and suggestion in front of the lab director and the entirety of our staff. He had joking pointed out that I had achieved the impossible by finding a safer, cleaner method to doing something that had the side-effect of saving us money. WIN/WIN.
But more than that, what I got from the whole experience was, everyone brings something to the table. Even the new kid that seems like they may have very little knowledge or understanding of what's going on. You just never know what you can or can't do, unless...you give it a try. Go out there and get it.
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