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Which slippery slope, you ask?  The one where I end up cleaning all the common areas in my work space.  Yes, dear readers, I cleaned the shared refrigerator.  It was just a little one!  I swear!*

This is a slippery slope for me  because I’m a female, junior faculty member who just showed up on campus.  I do not want to be put into the category of “cleans stuff for the rest of the (mostly male) faculty.”  At the same time, I did not want to put my food in that refrigerator.  There was a Tupperware that was actually bubbling when I took it out.  It dripped on me, on the ground, and apparently had exploded at some point and spewed red, sticky, potentially sentient drops of stuff all over the inside of the fridge.

So, I did it. It was the weekend, and I don’t think anyone saw me (maybe one person, but he’s not actually in my department).  I figured it was worth doing once, just to get it over with, and I probably wasn’t going to want to once the semester started.

Here’s the thing I always wonder about when it comes to these incredibly dirty shared spaces . . .  Are they common in every workplace, or are they specific to biologists?

During the time I spent in a USDA lab, our kitchen space was prone to chaos, but people didn’t seem to mind chipping in to keep things clean (at least when they were reminded to).  I don’t think I’ve ever worked in an academic science setting where the majority of people will actually clean up after themselves.  Sometimes there are passive-aggressive notes posted around the sink, and sometimes someone will get tired of it and clean it up (followed by a passive-aggressive note posting).  The same thing is true in shared lab space – buffer all over the bench, spilled chemicals of unknown vintage around the balance, and a steady build-up of crud inside the centrifuge.

Some of this is just the “tragedy of the commons”, I know.  I could have spent my entire PhD just trying to keep my grad lab clean, which obviously wouldn’t have been a good way to spend my time.  However, I feel like some of this is specific to the culture of biology, at least in the universities where I’ve done research.  There is almost a sense of being a REAL biologist if it doesn’t bother you that all your equipment is permanently attached to the bench due to accumulated dust and evaporated solution residue.  Indeed, the first time I saw a clean-ish lab, I was kind of shocked and disoriented. I’m hoping that I can just keep my new lab clean, or at least not a mess, by just establishing it as a ground rule when people come in the door.  I guess I’ll find out how easy that is, and whether I’ll eventually just give up like all the biologists before me.

*Okay, I admit – I also cleaned the shared sink, microwave, and table.  Bite me.

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