Guest post by Heather Cassell

Working in the lab over time teaches you many new skills. These include the many specific techniques your research demands as well as the enhanced organisation and time management skills you need to keep things running smoothly. But lab work can also teach you to become fairly ambidextrous.

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You often need enough strength and agility in your non-dominant hand to handle tricky objects while your dominant hand is busy, such as opening and holding a bottle while using a pipette to remove the amount of liquid you need.

Time and practice lets you build up a good level of dexterity in both hands, but there are still many things in the lab that can be difficult to use (or just annoying) if, like me, you are left handed.

Problems can occur when communal equipment is set up for right-handed people, for example gel running tanks: if you are loading your gel with your left hand you can end up contorting into strange positions in order to achieve the correct angle. Fail to do so and you may get the wrong well! The only other option seems to be moving the equipment every time you need to use it.

But sometimes the problem lies in design: in fume cupboards and some machines, all of the buttons or taps tend to be on the right hand side. We left-handers either have to adapt how we do our experiment so we can reach or just use our right hands instead. Luckily, practice makes perfect!

A major bugbear of mine is the pipette. There are some brands that I just can’t use due to their design: I’ll quite happily put the tip on and start to transfer the small volume of liquid, but somewhere along the way I will have caught the tip release button with the bottom of my thumb and the liquid will slowly be seeping out, not very useful when accuracy is paramount. Other brands are absolutely fine and I can use them without incident, but it can be very frustrating trying to work out which pipettes I can use, so woe betide anyone who takes my special pipettes!

Although being left handed can be a nuisance in the lab, it’s barely a minor inconvenience compared with the problems faced by, for example, wheelchair users. Some labs now have height adjustable fume cupboards that allow people in wheelchairs to work comfortably at the hood, but we still have a long way to go before labs are truly accessible.

For me, once I had overcome the problems associated with being left-handed in the lab, there’s nothing stopping me from getting on with the science and producing some good results!

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Left-handed in the lab, 7.4 out of 10 based on 10 ratings
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