Lab fiends – a spotter’s guide

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We recently looked at the Superheroes of the Lab, everyday scientists you’ve probably met who are harbouring different kinds of superpowers. This week, we’ll be looking at their implacable antagonists – the lab fiends.

The Mentorist
Basically, the worst kind of supervisor. Exploitative, extractive, and primarily in it for themselves. Lab members are viewed as an expendable resource, and the group is characterised by high personnel turnover and burnout. Often excels in raising money. May be thrown off the PhD programme if things get out of hand, but hard to stop owing to near-psychotic levels of self-possession and persuasion.
Weapons: mind control, manipulation, ruthlessness.

The Incredible Sulk 
A dominant negative who can destroy group morale if left unchecked. Prone to schadenfreude, gets in a huff about perceived slights, and takes everything personally. Profoundly unhappy, and usually despises others’ success. Often a postdoc with 5+ years experience. Excels in dishing out the silent treatment.
Weapons: passive-aggressive e-mails, sarcastic notes with lots of exclamation marks.

Slurp
Eats in the lab. Not snacks or sweets – entire meals. Sometimes several per day. Even known to use the lab microwave to do noodles. Consumes food with loud slurping noises and sets others’ teeth on edge by dragging their spoon around a cereal bowl. Often consumes food while staring blankly at their computer screen, sometimes with headphones on. Desk space generally has mounds of dirty plates, bowls, and cutlery in front of it.
Weapons: chomping/slurping noises, warm food aromas.

The Sycophant
An unabashed toady. Sucks up to the boss at every opportunity and even acts as an informant on what others in the group are up to. Pretends to be everyone’s friend, but always happy to casually drop a negative remark when in conversation with the group leader, such as people turning up hungover or being absent for long periods of time.
Weapons: forked tongue, ingratiation.

The Cold Room Sheriff
Health and Safety obsessive who complains about people leaving beers in the cold room. Always getting wound up about something, and leaves instructions or admonishing notes on all the shared lab equipment. Likes to treat common areas as their personal jurisdiction. Actually a rather helpful and valuable lab member, but the self-righteousness tarnishes their halo a bit.
Weapons: health & safety regulations, tenacity.

The Squatter
Leaves notes on equipment reserving it for hours at a time, or sometimes for an entire day. Almost never seen actually using the equipment they’ve reserved, but adamant that they need it. Usually very hard to find, but gets upset when others try to hijack the centrifuge for a 10-minute spin.
Weapons: invisibility, no shame.

The Puppet-Master
Smooth-talking huckster who collaborates with multiple people in the group, but somehow always ends up as first author of the resulting papers. Driven to succeed, and enjoys having other people work for them. Can mature into a Mentorist.
Weapons: charm, charisma, selfishness.

The Magpie
Obsessively hoards lab items, and will make off with anything that’s not clearly owned by someone. Fiercely possessive of their accumulated loot, and often a borderline obsessive-compulsive who arranges things in stacks. Good friends with the Squatter.
Weapons: sharp-eyed, acquisitive.

Moss
Technician who’s been around forever and lost interest a while back. Low opinion of junior lab members, and prone to taking long and regular cigarette breaks. Opposed to anything new.
Weapons: scorn, disdain.

Have you encountered any other lab fiends during your time at the bench? Let TIR know if so.

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