Do Human Lab Rats Dream about Science?

What are human lab rats? And I don’t mean humans in a clinical trial.

I’m one of those people who can accurately be called “lab rats” in the sense of a scientist loving being in the lab doing experiments, analyzing data, and so forth. Ever since I started as a lab technician in 1990, I found myself very at home in the lab.

I wouldn’t say I completely love the smell of methanol, chloroform, or other organics or even other typical lab smells that sometimes can include wafts of E. coli or perhaps the smell of a Sharpie as you label a tube, but I’d be lying if I didn’t say that sometimes such smells resonate with me in a certain way that might be familiar to other lab rats. The typical lab also just has an overall “lab smell” that is distinct from other workplaces.

chocolate lab rats, image labeled for reuse
Chocolate lab rats, image labeled for reuse

Even beyond smells, labs have a certain feel to them that we sense as a certain home-away-from-home feeling for me and other folks. There are certain sounds (the whir of the -80 freezer), a feeling in the air (maybe from the unique ventilation via hoods), and perhaps also a sense of excitement about what is possible via research.

Sure, there are certain times in my career that I couldn’t wait to leave the lab either because something exciting was going on elsewhere or because I was frustrated with a certain experiment, but day in and day out I like being in the lab. I’m sure my fellow lab rats sometimes want nothing more to be out of the lab, but they have a certain affinity for the lab too most of the time. I’ve also had crazy experiences in the lab including flooding my grad school lab and more. See “Tales from the Hood: What Really Goes On in Research Labs.” You might also find my “Elephant in the Lab” series to be interesting and funny as it covers real and sometimes difficult situations in the world of science.

The original title of the movie¬†Blade Runner was “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?” I’m not sure what this original longer title even means, but it was nonetheless a bit of an inspiration for the title of this post. I’ve had dreams about science over the years and other scientists have told me they have too. Science really pervades our lives so in a way even if we aren’t in the lab, the lab is in us.

Yes, corny, but true.

I’ve met physicians who have told me that their identity is deeply embedded in their job. I think my dad was a bit that way. It’s not just a job to be a doctor, but often far more than that. Some physicians identify themselves as doctors first even before other potential identity-related things like gender, a certain nationality or race. I think for some of us scientists, we feel a deep connection to science that makes it far more than just a job for us too. In my scientist in the garden series of posts, I’ve talked about how I bring science out into my garden even I don’t want to at times. It just comes with me there, the grocery store, the beach, etc. It’s not really a burden, but just a part of our reality.

If you are or were a scientist, what was or is your feeling or relationship to the place we call “the lab”? Do you carry your scientist hat (lab coat) metaphorically with you as you go other places?