The 9 types of Horror Lab

A special Hallowe’en posting. Horror movies and PhD/postdoc projects sometimes unfortunately have a lot in common, with naive and idealistic young things being gobbled up by a gallery of nasties. But what exactly are the 9 types of horror lab?

Zombie lab
It feeds on brains. Ruled by an undead necromancer, this lab takes and devours innocent young scientists, drawn by the lab’s outstanding publication record. Newbies will arrive blithely enough and full of ideas, but will be puzzled and concerned at the shambling behaviour of the locals. By the time they realise the truth, it’s too late. Years of belittlement, passive-aggressive tactics and stolen credit leaves them a husk of their former selves, shuffling around in a similar way and sustained only by gallows humour and cynical online comics. One in twenty will go on to become a necromancer themselves, thereby perpetuating the transmission of the plague.

Mummy lab 
Desiccated and dry, a Mummy lab is the domain of a Tomb King. They got tenure about 5,000 years ago but still haven’t retired or died. There’s usually some wizened old technician servitor who’s lived almost as long and who shuffles around doing mysterious things with no regard for modern safety standards. The walls of the lab are plastered in arcane script describing forgotten rituals for purity or embalmment, and all the equipment is old and pre-digital. Rightly shunned by the young, as they’ve no desire to learn how to mouth pipette acid. The space is clung to with all the intensity that befits a pharaoh’s pyramid. Often radioactive.

Haunted lab
It’s full of ghosts. This lab will previously have been occupied by someone else…but it’s never clear what happened to them. Usually they were a young group leader or even a married couple, and then they disappeared and nobody else in the department wants to talk about it, especially the tenured faculty. There’s still equipment and reagents, and strange objects keep getting found in the fridges and cupboards. There’s names scrawled everywhere, and a cryptic user ID on the main computer that nobody can remember the password for. Bound to freak out any new junior group leaders who move into the space, as they gradually go mad finding out the fate of their predecessors.

Frankenstein (flesh golem) lab
A Frankenstein lab is large, superbly equipped, and outwardly extremely successful. From the inside, the group appears different – almost an unconnected patchwork of different super-trendy topics and group members drawn from such disparate disciplines that they’re barely able to communicate with one another. External scientists who marvel at the group’s creativity, ingenuity, and multi-discipliniarity, are unaware of the monstrous experiments the group leader indulges in when it comes to paper-writing, stitching these totally disparate research parts together into one ungodly whole. Publications tend to fall apart after a few years as the stitching frays and the incompatible components rot.

Vampire lab
Similar to a zombie lab in that it gradually drains the life-force of its victims, but while a zombie lab feasts on their brains and ideas a vampire lab needs only their blood and energy. Ruled over by a cold-blooded overlord with immense charisma and no heart or soul, hapless interview candidates get treated much like Jonathan Harker on his way to Dracula’s castle. An all-hours work culture and punishing demands gradually turn young scientists into ghouls, skulking around and gibbering to themselves. 

Techno-horror lab 
Almost empty, a techno-horror lab is mostly composed of machines and robots. And humans being turned into robots. Unofficially led by a neural network, AI, machine learning algorithm, or a really big microscope, and sometimes all of the above, the most senior human representative is its high priest. New humans are rapidly indoctrinated into worship of the machine, tend to its needs at all hours, and learn that the algorithms are all powerful. Despite having some cuddly nickname like HAL, the network/AI/algorithm/microscope will eventually get rid of them all.

Skeleton lab
Stripped to the bare bones, a skeleton lab is operating on a shoestring budget but sustained by a manic and galvanising energy. There’s no meat, no muscle, it’s terribly fragile, and tenuously held together by a fantastic effort of will on the part of the spellcaster, usually a younger necromancer with poor prospects. Tend to crumble to dust after a few years.

Torture family/werewolf lab 
Everyone in this group seems super-friendly and welcoming and nice, until the patriarch takes a dislike to somebody and signals that they’re prey, after which it’s open season at every group meeting thereafter. Designated victims will be bullied and belittled while their data is violently butchered in front of them. Torture family labs are intensely tribal and ferociously hostile towards their perceived enemies.

Minotaur lab
Full of lost PhDs and postdocs, wandering around and looking for supervision. At the centre of the labyrinth, which usually can’t be found and is frequently empty, squats the Minotaur itself – apparently understanding what everyone is doing but unwilling to explain in any detail. People will be given projects that have been running for years without completion, or tasked with recapitulating results that exist only in the Minotaur’s head. Nobody understands anymore how they started or where they’re going, and stumble around relying on cryptic clues left by previous career sacrifices in lab books and protocol sheets. Encounters with the Minotaur tend to be fatal, but create openings for new sacrifices to arrive. 

Related postings:
The 9 types of peer reviewer
The 9 types of grant reviewer
The 9 types of academic authors
The 9 types of science lover

3 thoughts on “The 9 types of Horror Lab

  1. One upon a time, a torture family/werewolf lab resided next to mine. With helpless horror, I watched two brilliant male post-docs bullied, belittled, and humiliated (not simultaneously) by a giant werewolf. His all-female staff were acquiescent slaves with blank stares. The overlord department head looked the other way and campus Human Resources admitted they were “aware of problems”. Yet, they did nothing; they rubbed their greedy hands with the large grant money he brought in.
    One of those brilliant PhDs left academia, and science, jaded and frustrated. (We remind friends. He now teaches.)
    That was the straw that broke my camel back. With loud protest at the state of academia, I retired early, refusing to be a quiet subservient part of the horror show.


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