Who is your lab aya?


Alicia Hubert, lab aya

Last Monday I met with Alicia Hubert, our lab technician before she moves on to a fulfilling job in sustainability. I wanted to understand in more detail exactly what she did for us. I knew she did research, running bacteria through Biolog plates to understand their carbon usage, or pulling clones out of the freezer and letting them grow. I knew she did a lot of teaching of newcomers to the group. I knew she helped others when their own projects became unmanageable. I knew she ordered supplies. I knew she checked the safety equipment, changed the Millipore filters and reminded us when we were due for online training. I knew she updated our web page. But somehow I felt I had not fully understood the essence of her contribution. Now I do a bit more.

She was our lab aya. If you look up aya, you will find a definition like governess. But it has the sound of a word a very young child would use for someone who cares for them. What I mean when I say Alicia was our lab aya is that she is the one who cared for the whole lab, not just her projects or specific role. She is the one who walked through the whole lab at the beginning and end of the day and looked to see if anything was amiss. She looked at the freezers to see if they maintained their temperature. She looked at the benches to see if someone had become sloppy. She looked at the balances and the gel-pouring area. She noticed things. She unlocked and locked doors. She helped everyone be their best.

These simple tasks may not seem like a lot. They probably took less than an hour a day on most days. Often she would see nothing out of place on her trips through the lab. But when she did, it was quickly remedied.

Debbie Brock, master lab aya

How are we going to replace her? For now, I think we will rotate ayas, having everyone take a month long turn at the daily walk throughs and other tasks. This will help make everyone care more about the whole. And we are lucky for we also have a master aya, Debbie Brock, who will make sure this as everything else, goes freely.

Do you have an aya? Maybe its time you embraced this idea to keep your lab running well.


About Joan E. Strassmann

Evolutionary biologist, studies social behavior in insects & microbes, interested in education, travel, birds, tropics, nature, food; biology professor at Washington University in St. Louis
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