Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Caught in a lab romance (sorry)

Milkshake's comment about synthetic chemist intermarriage reminded me about a recent post by Liberal Arts Chemist on "research incest." Go ahead and head over there to read the story. Short version: a young PI catches his postdoc and his grad student in flagrante delicto; they are both married, but not to one another. LAC's question: is policing this behavior the responsibility of the PI? In the comments, LAC also notes that we're typically uncomfortable with directly addressing the infidelity issue.

If I were the PI, I'd want it out of my lab. Other than that, I don't feel that I have the power or influence to address it. I could imagine the HR- and E&HS-like bloodless speech that I would probably give: "Inappropriate place for such activities... lots of reactive chemicals around, bad chemical hygiene... affects the morale of the group, blah, blah, blah, etc."

Of course, I do have a moral and/or religious point of view on the issue. [Short, boring version: Marital infidelity is wrong, from a relationship and a spiritual perspective. Exciting, I know.] But labs (especially academic labs) are such cultural mixing bowls and (for better or for worse) we've arrived at a relatively judgment-less place in our workplaces; there's just not a lot of room for moralizing. Also, I'm not sure that anyone would take the ethical stylings of a young, 30 to 40-year old professor very seriously.

Perhaps later (much later?) in my career, I'd be comfortable in launching into a 10 minute sermon on the holiness of marriage and how they need to go home and beg forgiveness! right! now! But the safety perspective is um, safer, more relevant, and probably much less controversial.


  1. I once had to deal with a female postdoc always having sex with her lover (i.e. not husband) on my chair in lab. She said it was the largest chair and therefore most convenient. Did I mention that her husband also worked in our same lab.

  2. Completely inappropiate for faculty to preach on this matter. As an undergraduate at McGill University, 90% of the faculty were divorced as a consequence of affairs w/ their co-workers.
    The author of well-known undergraduate lab text, L. H., living on a funny island off the coast of France, was known for being caught with a co-ed in the fume hood. His nickname ever since: Professor SN2!

  3. I've seen some ugliness from labcest, but I've never partaken in it. Nobody in chem really struck my fancy, but I'm not claiming to be a supermodel either! Anyway, I've witnessed grad students get into trash-TV-worthy catfight as well as a mano-a-mano throw down. Luckily the boss wasn't around for either fight. One cardinal rule that was told to me by my undergrad adviser: Never date within the same lab, department or even building. In fact, my undergrad adviser has specifically turned down husband-and-wife postdoctoral applicants.

  4. "...we've arrived at a relatively judgment-less place in our workplaces; there's just not a lot of room for moralizing."

    I don't know about judgment-less and no moralizing. Just maybe not the sort you were thinking of.

  5. Never dip your syringe in the laboratory septum.


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