Yes, I Have Completed 47 Hours of Biosafety Training. Do I Know How To Properly Dispose Of This Hazardous Material? Of Course Not.

Miraglia, E. et al

Upon joining a new lab, many junior scientists are eager to hit the ground running and get to work on their projects as soon as possible. In order to transform this initial excitement into the dull throb of obligation, institutions dedicate the first few weeks of a student’s life to hours and hours of biosafety training. 

We’ve all been there – online modules, in-class training sessions, lab walkthroughs with notebooks and checklists. With institutions relying on such a mandatory snoozefest, we had to ask, does anyone actually retain the information they learn about lab safety during these unbearable mandatory sessions? We surveyed new hires at labs across the country to find out.

Natalie Katz, beginning her first year in grad school, had worked in labs during undergrad and co-op, but joined a new institution for graduate studies. She has completed biosafety training fourteen times in the last four years and yet the one thing she can remember?

“Don’t pipette by mouth,” said Katz. “Whenever they get to that one, I get distracted from all the hazardous waste stuff cuz I’m just picturing a man slurping up E. Coli.”

She says it doesn’t help that they put all the new hires in a dark, dusty auditorium while the biosafety officer read off slides in a monotone voice. 

“It couldn’t have been more mind numbing,” said Katz. “And everyone has the same cringey demonstration videos from the mid 90s that showed everyone’s uggo lab coats.”

Clearly the biosafety training could be a little more engaging, but is it at least effective? Also no. Out of 1000 grad students surveyed from 16 institutions, only one student was able to correctly dispose of hazardous waste without assistance from an annoyed post-doc. 

First-year grad student Justin Yip perfectly illustrated this sobering statistic, as he was unable to properly dispose of anything that was more dangerous than a saline solution. “Can paraformaldehyde go down the sink?” he pondered to a nearby 5th year PhD student. “I also don’t know how long I have to bleach my pathogenic Salmonella culture. And check this out, we have FIVE different colour-coded chemical waste bins. How could anyone possibly keep up with this shit!?”

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About Author

Em Miraglia

Em Miraglia is a grad student in a cell biology research lab in Toronto. Find Em on Twitter, @em_miraglia

About Em Miraglia 6 Articles
Em Miraglia is a grad student in a cell biology research lab in Toronto. Find Em on Twitter, @em_miraglia