friendlyscientistRGB
Graphic by Stephanie Wells

I am a cell laboratory technician.

This means that I work with human intestinal cells and plants. I spend my days testing minerals on them to generate absorption and toxicity data. In addition to cells, I also get to work with some of the most awesome people on the planet on the research & development team. In other words, I get to work with scientists.

Now when you hear the word scientist, you might instantly think of an old, angry person sitting in a dank, dark lab without any human interaction. They may look ready to judge you for not being smart or unwilling to discuss their work with a ‘non-scientific’ person, but this is far from the truth.

While scientists have a reputation for being stuffy, boring people, in actuality, they are a lot of fun. Scientists, like anybody else, can talk about anything and everything. Of course we have conversations about current events, chemistry, biology and physics, but we can also talk about the latest TV show, a new restaurant that just opened or the new hilarious cat video circulating online.

We also have personalities. For instance, everyone on the team has a very different personality. We know this because we take a lot of silly personality and spirit animal quizzes online.

It’s interesting because while everyone behaves very differently, a lot of us fall into the same categories. For example on the Myer-Briggs Personality Test, almost everyone is an INTJ, which stands for introversion, intuition, thinking and judgment. Our spirit animals are almost unanimously crow with the exception of three bears, a fox and an otter.

Everyone is helpful and in our team there is very little to no competition. We all have our projects and goals, and we work hard to achieve them and help each other achieve theirs as well. Everyone is willing to teach you something. I learned how to use a UHPLC-MS (a Ultra High Performance Liquid Chromatography-Mass Spectrophotometer), how to plan an experiment, how to take care of a hydroponic system and even improved my organic chemistry a bit, although I probably still won’t pass the class.

Another misconception about scientists is that we only dress in suits, ties and lab coats. In fact, because we work in a lab with dangerous chemicals, the dress code is pretty relaxed (i.e. jeans and a t-shirt—not even collared.) We can wear leggings, beanies, skirts and dresses (with tights or leggings underneath), just as long as we remember our PPE—personal protection equipment—a lab coat, goggles, bump cap, respirator and hair/beard nets depending on the area.

As far as food, we pretty much get to eat constantly. Lunch is up to an hour long—plus, we can eat at our desks while we’re working, in meetings and pretty much any time except for in the lab. We need all that energy to keep our brains thinking. We share food, buy each other food, go out to lunch with each other and hang out with each other after work.

Every quarter we also do a fun activity where we go out and have lunch and do an activity such as the mystery game room in Salt Lake, Touring Miss Cavanaugh’s chocolate factory or a cooking class together. Once, we even got together to take a course on sushi making.

It’s not intimidating being a scientist or working around scientists. You don’t have to be the smartest person in the room and know everything there is to know about your project. We collaborate with each other, teach each other and support each other.

As a technician, I have the opportunity to work with everyone and help them on their projects. I learn so much from them every day. Scientists are creative, fun, hard-working and whole, well-rounded people. We are not intimidating. We are people too.

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