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Ten things to do in a 10 minute incubation

Short incubations are the bane of my life.  Anywhere from 5 to 20 minutes of my life disappears in the blink of an eye, usually when doing washes for western blots or IHC. This is made infinitely worse as my office is two floors down from my desk, so returning for a quick cup of tea tends not to be an option for me. As a result, I present to you: 10 things to do in 10 minute incubations.

1. Look for conferences

This is probably my favourite way to waste pass some time and feel almost productive. Going to a conference is good for networking, and it means you’ll get to present your work. However the likelihood is that you won’t get to attend 90%+ of the conferences that you manage to find. I’m still not sure why my supervisor wouldn’t pay for me to go to Australia for a 3 day conference. Which brings me on to…

2. Find funding

The most likely way for you to be able to attend the aforementioned conferences in far-flung locations. As a bonus, as if you needed one, saying that you managed to get a bursary to attend a conference looks great on a CV.

3. Make a list of things you should be doing

I’m not sure if you can tell, but I’m a big fan of lists. At the minute, I have about 3 different lab-based To Do lists (one for each area of my project), 1 To Do list for office-based things, and a final list for things outside of work. Everybody loves a list.

4. ‘Network’  with other people in the lab

Another favourite of mine, and pretty important too. Considering that my desk is 2 floors below the rest of the people in my lab, I don’t often get to speak to a lot of them. So when I have a bit of an incubation, or lots of short washes, I take the time to go and catch up with what everybody else is doing. It’s a good way to spend some time, and often means you get input into your ideas and projects that you might not have thought of.

5. Catch up on your social media

Now I don’t mean sit on Facebook checking out who’s got engaged, is pregnant or both. I mean go and check on your Twitter, Instagram, blog, whatever else you have going. It’s all about the science communication! And when better to do a bit of sci comm than when you are actually in the lab? It also means that you can catch up with other academics and see whats going on outside your PhD bubble.

6. Clean up your crap

I am massively guilty of this. If I’ve had a busy couple of weeks in the lab, my bench resembles something similar to a hoarders front room. Papers everywhere, piles of empty tip boxes, you get the idea. Imagine a small explosion. Use your incubation time to regain some semblance of calm and tidy your bench up. It’ll make you instantly more organised and on top of everything.

7. Make all the buffers you keep saying you will

After your busy weeks, stocks of buffers will have taken a hit. Don’t wait until you need to use one of them to realise that you’ve run out. Most of them can be made in not a lot of time, and not too much effort. You’ll thank yourself later when you’re not running around like a headless chicken looking for chemicals.

8. Book the equipment that you need to use

There’s nothing more frustrating than forgetting to book onto the confocal, or FACs machine or into tissue culture. Take your 10 minutes and your new To-Do lists to think about what you need to book over the next few days or weeks. It has the bonus of making sure you actually get some work done because you suddenly have the deadline of your impending confocal booking.

9. Order reagents

I have lost count of the amount of times that I’ve gone to get an antibody or something from a kit and it’s mysteriously disappeared from when you checked the week before. There is nothing more frustrating, especially when you’re in the middle of a protocol and suddenly have to run around an institute finding someone who uses the same reagent that’s the same brand too. Phew. Nobody needs that, especially on a Friday afternoon. Take your 10 minutes and go through the things that you think might be about to run out, or that you’ll be using a lot of in the coming weeks, and stick them on the order sheet. You’ll thank yourself in the future.

10. Update your lab book

The most boring on the list, but arguably the most important. I go through phases of updating my lab book, whereas other people in my lab are constantly writing in it with absolutely everything that they’re doing. This is mainly because I’ve fallen into bad habits of only adding results to it, so anything that’s still in progress isn’t actually in there yet. I always think of Nobel prize winners showing the day they wrote down their findings in their lab books and think I should probably update it. In my defence, I mainly use it to store protocols.


Time is precious, don’t waste it.


4 thoughts on “Ten things to do in a 10 minute incubation

  1. sophiearthur91 says:

    Great blog post! Most of my days are spent waiting for 5/10 minute inclinations doing Westerns so I will take note about how to use my time better! Good luck with the rest of your PhD and the blog! I look forward to more posts 🙂


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