Managing the Lab

10 Things About Being A Lab Manager That Drive Me Crazy

Being a lab manager is not easy.

It’s more than just science. Much more. In fact, sometimes, science is just a minor part of being a lab manager. It’s more like managing a small business, making sure the entire lab is always running efficiently, safely, happily, and fairly.

Being a lab manager means you are the point of contact, the leader (other than of course, the PI), and a supervisor.  You also have special superpowers that can fix anything, help anyone at any time, make things happen, and somehow get your own stuff done.

It’s quite a daunting job, and there are so many things about the job that can drive a lab manager crazy. Here are 10 of them:

Everyone constantly asks me when they should expect the order or whether the order has arrived or where in the lab it has been placed. With so many moving pieces, different vendors, scientists using the same or similar inventory, delivery services, and shipping timelines, I hardly ever know where exactly an individual order is.

Everyone begins with the same “I’m sorry for being last minute, but this is super urgent. In fact, I actually needed this material yesterday. So, if you have time today – actually, if you can drop what you’re doing now, I would love for you to order this for me. Can you overnight it?”

One year, I was on vacation for 4th of July and took several days off surrounding the holiday. I informed everyone in advance that I was going to be in a log cabin in the mountains.  A graduate student received a review back from her paper during the holiday, which wanted her to perform some additional experiments. She took this as something that had to be done ASAP so she called me a dozen times, emailed me all day, demanding me to try to place a lab order for her. If I wasn’t able to do it, she wanted me to teach her how to use eProcurement. I was coming back from vacation the next day. Apparently that wasn’t good enough for her because “she needed to graduate.”

Beyond all my other responsibilities, everyone asks me to send supply returns and other shipments. I sometimes find myself spending hours just packaging boxes.

The answer is: Yes, I have ordered it. No, I do not know the status of the order. And no, I will not know the status tomorrow. No, there is no way to check. DO YOU WANT TO CALL THE COMPANY YOURSELF? That usually grants a silence for a few days.

There is always someone in the lab who thinks money grows on trees or does not realize there is a giant crate of unopened tubes that he needs sitting right next to him. They always get slightly offended when I ask them about why they need what they need. 

Yes, graduation is huge. And yes, one day you will graduate. I know, the paper is important. The experiment is important.  Everything is important!

I don’t really care but I’m just sayin’. There is no thanks when it’s a responsibility.

I somehow exist everywhere at any time and have infinite time on my hands. People think I am perfectly happy to reschedule at any time, or can go to a meeting at a whim or reschedule a meeting at a whim. Sure, I have superpowers so I can. But also, my time is important too.

The drama can be fun, although I can’t eat popcorn in the lab (I am kidding). However, being the mediator is not fun.  I am always the go-to person when there is conflict in the lab, and lemme tell ya – resolving conflicts is an art.

Despite all the frustrations and things that drive me crazy as a lab manager, I do love my job at the end of the day. I get to be the jack of all trades, from managerial to technical, and I am the main supporter of the lab, doing all the behind-the-scenes work to help the lab run smoothly. When a lab runs smoothly, that’s when great science happens.

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