Biology student share experiences from internships in the Arctic
Biology student share experiences from internships in the Arctic

Facing the Consequences of Falling of the Reindeer

As a student your responsibilities tend to affect just you, and you alone. Perhaps you will have a few unhappy study-mates if you don ́t contribute enough in a group, but the damage can often be disregarded. As an employee, you can’t afford to fall of the horse (at least not more than once). Your colleagues depend on you to get your work done, companies work like a machine, where each part has to work and contribute for a successful outcome.

The Svalbard reindeer

Working in the laboratory independently went from being empowering to feeling more lonely, and with repetition of the same work routine for a while I noticed myself loosing accuracy out of boredom. The dip in interest in my internship work snowballed together with my personal life (not to mention the avalanche evacuations) and I fell off the horse for a few weeks – with no one to hold me accountable to show up at university or hand in results I became demotivated and gave into a bout of depression.

Weeks later I am back at it, working regularly during normal working hours and feeling good about it. Right as I am starting to feel proud of myself for pulling myself and my student career together, I am faced with backlash. “Was this you?” My supervisor asks me whilst pointing his phone screen at me. It is a picture of completely dried up agarose gel that “someone” left out in the fume hood of the instrument laboratory. My face starts to flush red as my mind flashes back to the day I crashed and burned and rage quit my laboratory work in the middle of the PCR process – it was one of those days where just about everything goes wrong. Together we go to clean up after sloppy past me. My supervisor calmly watches as I correct my mistake, but I feel embarrassed and disappointed with past me. I ́m keeping my cool but then he points at the scale. “It wasn ́t me!” I impulsively blurt out. I know how much he hates it. I promise you this; leaving spilt powder on a scale (that could quickly and simply be cleaned up) is possibly one of the best ways to insult a laboratory technician. “I know it was you Emma! You were the last one to make the agarose gel!” he says loudly. I have never had such a good time getting my a** handed to me. I suck at taking criticism, but I felt I was being held responsible without being condescended. As the laboratory door shuts close behind us one of us cracks a joke and we move right on with our day.

It wasn’t a big deal, yet I mope to myself about my mistake for the next few hours, until I manage to change my perspective. It wasn’t personal, I was just being taught to be responsible for my actions; as a student no one does this for you; instead, you may fail your classes or drop out of your course, but this affects only you. It was a valuable day to be reminded of the responsibilities we have towards each other, as well as the importance of self-forgiveness for making a mistake on a bad day.

By Emma van der Ploeg