By Kelly Strzepek

I read a very amusing article a little while ago about labelling of all things. But because I don’t label any of my folders properly I can’t find where I filed it so I am going to have to paraphrase from memory. It is the story of a young man’s changing ideas of what it means to be a scientist. From an early age (let’s call him Bob) Bob had a fascination with discovery and thought it would be terribly cool to be a scientist. He dreamed of building rockets, of curing cancer, and of the adulation and recognition he would receive by pursuing such noble causes.

Then he went to primary school and discovered that science was for geeks and in fact, you were more likely to get shoved into a bin than be adored by your peers. Bob then read about men like Bill (Gates) and thought that being shoved into a bin for a few years was worth the inherent discomfort of being a bit of a geek. As an undergraduate he thought that the LONG hours spent studying the fundamental sciences would pay off. He would cure cancer, be noble, get a Nobel Prize, and shout EUREKA a lot. Then Bob went to get a PhD and he discovered what being a research scientist was really all about. It’s about two things: 1) labelling, and 2) moving liquid from one labelled container to another labelled container. Sometimes the liquid would be moved into an instrument, and then for the experiment to progress different liquid would need to be moved to labelled containers, run through different instruments, possibly manipulated (which would require more labelled containers), then when all the results were inconclusive he would rethink the experiment and start the process of labelling again. No EUREKA, definitely no recognition, but lots and lots of labelling.

I laughed heartily at all this because it is SO TRUE! After reading the article I went down stairs to the radiocarbon lab to work on my samples that were in labelled glass test tubes. I removed some liquid, put more liquid in, removed that liquid then put the clean samples in freshly labelled quartz tubes. I printed labels on cards, entered labels in the database, then labelled plastic tubes so that I could store my samples until labelling the sheet for the instrument run. To be honest one of the most exciting things that happened last year was the acquisition of an electronic labeller for our lab. My supervisor (let’s call him Stew) left a label on the door telling me to stop labelling things.

Where Bob dreamed of curing cancer, I have dreams of unravelling the mysteries of the deep-ocean. Man do I have a lot of labelling to do before that happens.