Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Is it okay to watch Netflix in the lab?

Because of the success of my last question; Is it okay to cry in the lab?, here’s another one:
Before I moved to the US I thought that most people that work in academia in the US work more than 5 days a week and more than 8 hours a day. I thought that a lot of post-docs worked on competing projects, where only the one who finished first would become an author on the paper, and I thought that people would come into the lab at crazy hours just to show their ever-present PI that they were in the lab too. And I know this happens in some labs, because I interviewed at a lab like that. But I was afraid that this would turn me into a deer in the headlights because of all the pressure, and I secretly was looking for a lab where I could have a baby and not be yelled at for not being productive enough during that time.

So I chose the lab that I am in now: my PI is a senior professor, who has lots of grant money at the moment, and who works in a niche that makes it possible to sit on data a little longer (or a lot longer), and still be able to publish them in a decent journal. He likes to take us to conferences, and was very supportive when I had my baby (I got three months of maternity leave!).

However, this relaxed atmosphere makes people in the lab procrastinate and hang around. It is normal to check facebook several times a day (but who doesn’t), but it also seems acceptable to watch entire movies on Netflix (and then I don’t mean watching a movie while doing something at the same time, but just watching a movie). Many people knit entire sweaters while in the lab, and it is not uncommon to sit around for an hour (or two) after lunch. It is also not that people work very long days; most people will be in the lab for 8 hours at most. The best (or worst) example is when I walked into my PI’s office to discuss my data and he asked me to come back 30 minutes later. I said that that was fine and sat at my computer and checked my facebook only to see that he had just been putting holiday pictures on facebook during those 30 minutes… (Whether one should even be facebook-friends with one’s PI is another question).

I wish that I wouldn’t care, but I think that this unproductive environment brings everybody down. One post-doc has already left the lab because she wanted to work in a more inspiring setting. I’ve noticed that I like to work hard when other people work hard too.I found that I’m pretty good at motivating myself though, and what also drives me is the fact that I want things finished in time to pick up BlueEyes from daycare.

So do you think it is acceptable to watch Netflix in thelab? And are you influenced by how hard people around you work?


  1. uh wow. In all honesty I have definitely decided to veg out for a while in lab before. I try not to make a habit of it. And my desk is faces a corner, no one knows what I'm doing and it doesn't distract anyone if I play video games for 15 minutes. I don't think I've just flat out watched a feature film in the middle of lab. If you've going to do that much non-work, do it someplace else.

    (It took me forever to post here.)

  2. My technique (whole cell patch clamp), means that I'm able to waste time productively in little chunks. Like right now I'm in a 10 min wait while my whole cell dialyzes. Overall my lab is mostly grad students and we do waste time, but certainly not a feature film worth of time! More like "going to get coffee" for half an hour, or hopping on facebook "for five minutes" that ends up being 15 minutes.

    1. Thanks for your comment. I'm definitely not against wasting time here and there; I do it all the time. I do electrophysiology too and I love those 10 minute breaks that you get when you're waiting for your drug to wash out or whatever. But some people in my lab take this to a whole different level and just come in for the breaks and don't even do an experiment...