As I’m sure most of you are aware the life of a grad student doesn’t involve a lot of car chases or celebrity scandal so my ideas on what to write about tend to be scarce. Inspiration struck this week while I was having lunch with an invited seminar speaker (who unfortunately has not had tragic plastic surgery or checked into rehab recently) and the conversation rolled around to lab dynamics and the pros and cons of big vs. small labs. So I’ve decided to take this opportunity to give my two cents and encourage you all to leave your thoughts as well so that nubile young scientists can look back at this post and use our collective knowledge to make a good choice for them. Think of it like a science Voltron!
I work in a small lab and when I say small I mean it consists of me, one other person, and a tech that comes in a few days a week. While I wouldn’t be opposed to a few more pairs of hands, I by far prefer the small lab environment. Competition for projects is low and this was particularly advantageous second year when I was working on a solidly formed project while a few of my classmates were still trying to find their niche. Also, competition for my mentor’s time is greatly reduced. Anyone who’s ever tried to schedule a thesis committee meeting knows that PIs are beyond busy so this is a major bonus in my book.
It is, however, undisputable that fewer co-workers means fewer brains to mine for information. I don’t really see this as a problem however. OHSU has set up the perfect environment for people to collaborate and ask questions of one another so whenever I need direction on a new experiment I just walk to another lab on campus and start throwing out ideas. I will admit that there are times when I am pulled away from bench work to do things that a lab manager would do in a larger lab (i.e. IACUC renewals, ordering, animal export, etc…) but in reality these duties are part of a working lab and it may even give me a leg up if/when I decide to start my own lab someday.
Don’t get me wrong, there are times when I am exceedingly jealous of the big labs with lots of money and crazy equipment but in the end I really think I’ve made a good choice for me. I’m sure you’ve all got opinions so let’s hear it!