This weekend I had a student working in the lab with me. He seemed interested in the project initially, went out and collected the samples himself, came to my lab to run them and then seemed bored out of his mind the entire time he was here.
I know sequential extractions cannot be described as a non-stop thrill-ride adventure, but I have to say that I really enjoy working in the lab. That’s quite a statement for a former field geologist to make, I think. Don’t get me wrong; I still love hanging off the sides of cliffs and starting out over a vast plain from the top of a mountain. There is a unique beauty, peace, solitude, and perspective that field work brings.
Lab work has a different vibe to it. Whether it’s picking grains for analysis or performing a sequential extraction, there is a beauty to the slow methodical rhythm of lab work. Pipetting liquids from one tube to another doesn’t sound like a serene experience, but it really is. It forces me to focus on the moment, the way my hands are moving, getting the pipette as close to the sediment interface as possible without touching it. There is little room for all the other stresses in my life. Without those stressors cluttering my mind, I find myself more prone to joy and deep satisfaction with my life.
I also find that moments of clarity are easier to come by in these routine lab bench moments. The majority of my consciousness if focused on doing the job at hand, but part of it has uncluttered time to think. In these long lab work days, I find I can focus on one issue at a time that needs dealt with. It has made me realize that for me lab work can have the same emotional/mental/spiritual effect as my tai chi practice.
I wonder if all scientists feel this way or if lab work is something you have to get through on your way to something else (i.e. publication). I wonder what I can do to explain or share with students the intrinsic power of laboratory meditation or if it is something people have to find out for themselves.