Learning how to science on the job

I started a new job recently working in a medical lab. Of all the dozens of jobs I have had over the years this is by far the most interesting one. I have done a lot of interesting stuff too from working at a waste water treatment plant to being a journalist for multiple news outlets. I am currently loving my job for one big reason, the science.

There is always a learning curve when it comes to jobs. Even though I ended up dropping out of college too, the fact I never completed my formal education is not based on a disdain for learning or a distrust in the world of academia. It was personal issues that got in the way. But I loved going to school. For the last several years I have had jobs that in so many ways feel like being in school. As a news reporter it’s like being a life-long student of the community around you. You spend our days asking questions, listening to lecture, taking notes and then writing it all down in a report for others to read. Also you sit at a desk most of the time. I love that aspect of being a reporter.

Due to the ongoing, seemingly endless in ways, pandemic I have had to change careers rather suddenly. Yet I can’t blame the coronavirus too much because in a way it opened a door for me to an exciting new chapter in my life. One where I can, should I so choose, go down the path of becoming a scientist of sorts. And I am loving every minute of it.

To be fair I don’t actually work directly in the science part of the lab. I work in receiving department. But I handle samples, wear a lab coat and gloves and take those samples I log to their respective lab for processing. More than that though I am working with scientists. Really cool, really intelligent and very open minded individuals. It’s a rather nice change of pace. I love writing and my fellow writers to death, but science if fun y’all.

What I enjoy the most is the learning processes. Sure there is the part where a lot of what we do is integral to the health and well being of people as we are a cog in the healthcare machine. The majority of tests we perform are either for COVID-19 or urine wellness looking for diseases. In fact the lab where I work basically tests for infectious diseases almost exclusively. The handling of samples, taking them out of their bags, placing the tubes or vials onto a sample rack, putting a label on them and transferring them to the lab with the cool looking science equipment is fun too. The really cool part about it all is how much I am learning. Since I started hear I have begun to learn about the different diseases and the tests we perform to find them. I must admit I am quite overwhelmed but very enthusiastic at the prospects. I am even negotiating with management to let them teach me how to do more than just data entry. I want to learn as much as I can. I’d love to pick the brains of the scientists I work with and better understand the work we do, the processes but also the biology behind it all.

I have always been fascinated by science and learning. When I was in 1st grade I expressed a desire to grow up and become a scientist. I went from paleontologist to astronomy to even chemist at one point in time. While in college I even tried to consider a degree in computer science. There is one thing that has always held me back however, my lack of a solid mathematics education. In grade school they let you fail at least 2 classes before holding you back. I chose to fail P.E. and Math because those two classes were such a struggle for me. P.E. because I wore women’s panties under my “boy” clothes before I came out trans, and math because, well it’s just hard for me. I still love learning though and I have always been interesting in pushing myself beyond my own boundaries.

One thing this job has done in addition to reigniting my passion for learning it’s motivating me to think long and hard about the road ahead. I took this job through a staffing agency. I am currently employed as a temp. I was hired to do data entry based on my years of organizing data working as a news reporter. Also I am quite proficient in typing so that was an added plus.

I have to admit the first month I was a fish out of water. I struggled daily not to go to work, I was motivated by quite honestly how much fun it is. But the work itself. There is a lot to learn working in a medical facility. I had to receive a crash course in OSHA and HIPPA. Yeah that was scary at first. But as long as you follow the procedures theoretically you won’t be in violation of those laws so I got that down.

After about a month something clicked inside. I have more or less been assigned to the COVID-19 station. What that means is when swabs come in containing patient material needing to be tested I organize those tests. I receive the bags, I open them place the tube on a rack, log it into the computer, print a manifest and take it to a lab for testing. Since we’re in the middle of a pandemic I chalked it up to doing my civic duty to help fight the deadly disease that is disrupting our daily lives. Then I got a STAT sample in for a 2-year-old baby. STAT is a word I am sure you have heard on TV shows like Grays Anatomy. It means move faster. You basically have to prioritize a STAT case and get it to the lab as fast as absolutely possible. The difference in a STAT case is rather than take a full rack of samples to the holding fridge, log them into the sheet and get back to the receiving lab, you take it directly to the scientist and hand it to them for testing immediately. Since it was a young child I felt the urgency of doing my part helping this child fight for his life. It was thrilling to say the least. It was in that moment I realize God had given me an opportunity I couldn’t refuse. I am now considering how to get the most of this place. I am considering what I can learn from them.

Right now I am contemplating going back to school. I am thinking about changing careers to something that would allow me to continue to working in a lab while moving into something more exciting than data entry. Don’t get me wrong I love what I do now it’s peaceful most of the time but interesting enough it doesn’t get boring. That’s a key trait in a job I seek, not being bored.

I haven’t given it too much thought which field I would consider. I work with scientists who have varied backgrounds and each one has so much they can teach me. I am considering eventually going back to school and seeking a degree, hopefully one I can finish this time. I am not yet sure where I will go or how I will go about it but I have enough undergraduate credits beneath me I should be able to jump in and hit the ground running. In the coming weeks, days even months I will be seriously considering what those prospects might be and trying to create a plan that will get me back on that path. I know the road ahead is an exciting one and the idea of working in a science lab never would have crossed my mind with my background. As a writer I am skilled at learning. It’s time I take that to the next level and see if I can use it to launch a new career.