Holly Maguire

Important little things

As the unofficial lab social secretary, I take our lab social events very seriously. Although everyone is inevitably really busy, and there are many weeks without nearly enough time in them, these little things remain important. They force us to look up from our work and take a break, to socialize with the people around us, and help us to foster a sense of community in our lab. What do I mean by little things? Well let me tell you.

  1. Birthdays. We celebrate them! Everyone that wants to join throws in 5 pounds and we organise a present for the birthday recipient. I bake a cake (usually by request, which has the wonderful side effect of expanding my recipe repertoire) and we all take a bit of time to sit down and eat cake. And shouldn’t we all make a bit more time for that? It is a bit of a commitment, and as our lab grows we’ve definitely all tried to share in the brainstorming of ideas/picking of gifts, but it’s wonderful. It’s a great way to welcome new people into the lab and again…there’s cake.
  2. Away days. A new tradition that we started last year that was a resounding success. Our supervisor has graciously set aside a small seed fund for us to use to spend a day either away overnight somewhere or, in the case of this year, around the city. It’s a bonding day, a chance for us do some group work (like the creation of our lab manual last year or our upcoming CV workshop this year) and we eat cake. I’m sensing a theme here…..
  3. Writing mornings. We tend to do these around once a month, more if there are a number of people working on big writing projects. It’s a structured morning whereby everyone brings something they want to work on, tells me their goals (for accountability purposes), and gets to work. We work for 45 minutes and then take a 15 minute break. I run around the floor like a mad woman shouting at everyone to stop what they’re doing to either take a break or to get back to work. The power hungry side of me really loves this. I also try and pick at theme, like say Alice and Wonderland, and design some activities to fill our 15 minute breaks with (in this case a pin the smile on the Cheshire cat, Mad Hatter tea party, Tweedledee and Tweedledum three legged race across the hall). There’s also usually cake. It’s fun. It’s productive. And it allows us a platform to encourage each other to be productive and meet our goals.
  4. Galentines. You can thank Leslie Knope for this one. The nearest Friday to Valentines day we all go for breakfast. It’s as simple as that. It’s something to look forward to and, although technically only one official day of the year, it’s lead us to organise a few Galentines breakfasts throughout the year. Not everyone can make it but there’s never any pressure, it’s just a nice breakfast out with colleagues and friends, and a chance to bond over pancakes. Or just cake. We’re a judgement free lab.
  5. The really little things. I would be remiss not to mention the pride I feel over our work environment. We’ve collectively worked hard to create and maintain an atmosphere of support and inclusiveness. The whatsapp group we created to have a way of communicating quickly and efficiently if we’re out of milk or tea bags, has also become a platform for people to reach out if they need help or advice or just want to share something great that’s happened. The contact list ebbs and flows as people come and go throughout the lab, but over the course of the year and a half, what has maintained is the group dedication to creating a work environment that is supportive. I feel as though, in the relatively cutthroat world of academia, it’s a true blessing to be able to have a group of colleagues that are so generous.

I think it’s a big mistake to overlook the little things and to underestimate the positive effect they can have. From leaving a congratulations sign on the door of the colleague who aced their driving test, to a “do not touch” sign hung on the computer of the workaholic who has a hard time respecting her days off, these little things have a big impact. We decorate for Christmas and have a secret Santa baking exchange that I know we all look forward to, where we cap off the year by spending the afternoon exchanging baked goods and sitting under all our corny Christmas decor. We all try and have lunch together, whenever time and schedules allow of course, and whenever someone returns from a trip they often bring back treats. We’ve fostered an environment of collaboration and support among colleagues, but even more we’ve created a community.

I know from personal experience that I’ve had a couple really horrible days turn around drastically thanks to a nice message from an office mate or the simple offer of a cup of tea.

And if there’s cake too? Well that’s just even better.






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