Monday, February 21, 2011

More on lab relationships

Scully, did you leave the HPLC on?
Photo credit:
By popular demand (and the week after Valentine's Day), let's talk about lab relationships. I've always found it a little funny that sometimes, the boss or the administrative rules (or both) will insist that relationships between coworkers not be allowed.

But it just can't be helped, I think. When you get younger people together and heap a bunch of pressure for productivity on top of them, a certain percentage will turn to each other for comfort and understanding. Who better to talk to about your problems than someone who's going through them at the same time, with the same people? Add a smidgen of mutual attraction to that mix and you've got yourself a serious lab romance.

[I should note here that I've never been involved in a lab romance, but I've seen a good number of them. I should also note that most of them are pretty healthy and not too openly demonstrative. We're chemists, after all, not the hot young doctors of Seattle Grace.]

They can have many different outcomes, of course. Some last and grow into long-term relationships with marriage, kids and the whole bit (assuming they solve the two-body problem.) Some end quietly, with no comment given to their friends and awkward silences all around. Some self-destruct spectacularly, with results as entropic as throwing a rotten tomato at a whirring ceiling fan. But get youngish people in an intense, stressful working environment and love (or lust?) will always find a way.

UPDATE: Anon5:13a makes an excellent point. A key catalyst/solvent in these reactions -- ethanol/water mixes. Very, very key.


  1. The grad board at my old school used to sponsor fairly regular "mixers" at a bar up the road, where your first few beers were free on a Friday night and entire labs went together.

    Wonder how so many "lab romances" cropped up?

  2. I have to say, as bad as the market is for chemists out there I'm glad I don't have a chemist partner. There's already been stories (I think some on this blog) of couples who have to live in different states because of this.

  3. Been there, done that, enjoyed it, will try not to do it ever again

  4. My postdoc advisor always brags about the number of couples he has "matched". There are 26 intra-group marriages. Of those 26, there were 2 divorces. But this wasn't just a regular divorce. It was a metathesis reaction. M1 and F1 divorced. M2 and F2 divorced. M1 and F2 got married. M2 and F1 got married ....

  5. Been there, done that, enjoyed it, will try not to do it ever again

    Ditto. Especially that last part.

    Matt, that's one of the more awesome stories I've heard, but really the analogy is the best. Nice job.

  6. Awesome analogy, Matt. I am impressed.

  7. I've never seen an intra-lab relationship work and the idea of working with my partner is horrific. I love having him a few labs down, but in the same space would just get to me. Plus we'd constantly be "helpfully" pointing things out about each others work. We'd drive each other berserk.

  8. @CJ .. wish I were that impressive. This story is lore in our group. It is also one of our advisor's (Harry Gray) favorite stories to tell. I wish I knew who came up with the metathesis line. Likely, it was Harry. Of course I could just be saying that because I've heard him tell this story 3,000 times.

  9. poor synthetic chemists do not get out of lab that much. And, if you like bright girls who are not whiners chances are you can find one working in a hood next to you. (Not that I would encourage you to date labmates but it often develops naturally. The problem is, when you have a nasty spat you still have to work next to them.)

  10. @Matt.. I suspected you were speaking of Harry. I can't imagine any other advisor coming close to that kind of success as a match-maker. I hadn't heard the metathesis part, though.


looks like Blogger doesn't work with anonymous comments from Chrome browsers at the moment - works in Microsoft Edge, or from Chrome with a Blogger account - sorry! CJ 3/21/20