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Following the highs and lows of a new PhD student making her way in the world of organic chemistry...

My (insert swear word here) Lab Coat

My first lab coat was a thing of beauty; 100% cotton, nice and thick (perfect for a cold lab) and it actually fitted quite nicely. It was my school lab coat, though it would have done a very good job in a research lab too. Unfortunately when I was 17 I spilled something on it (not sure what, but I suspect permanganate was involved) and my mother, bless her, put it in the washing machine. It came out looking like the victim of a colony of clothes moths.

My second lab coat was supplied by the university, on my very first day as an undergraduate in the teaching laboratory. It was a polyester/cotton mix (ugh) and it was quite thin. It was also quite large, because I was quite large back then too. Within two years I had dropped nearly 3 dress sizes and I could have used it as a tent. By then I was working in my current lab in my spare time, and there was a pile of unwanted coats in the corner, so I grabbed the smallest one I could find and wrote my name on the label in permanent marker.

During a particularly hot summer, it sat on the hook unloved for a while (don’t tell on me) and unfortunately became hideously contaminated by a visiting student with a body odour problem who left his coat snuggling up to mine every day. I triple bagged it, took it home and gave it a thorough wash/decontamination/24 hours in a sheep dip.

It is clean now, which is its only redeeming feature. I’ve always hated wearing a lab coat. Not because I think it’s silly or unnecessary but because it’s uncomfortable and a nuisance. Part of the problem is that lab coats are so generic. They come in XS, S, M, L, XL. And that’s it. I am approximately a size “S” but the coat reaches below my knee, which is far too long and gets in the way, and I have to fold the sleeves to make them 3” shorter. Although an “S” fits my hips, it drowns my shoulders. “XS” fits my shoulders, but I can’t do it up further down.

You may think that I’m just whining about something trivial and unimportant, but I have to wear this bloody thing for at least 8 hours a day. Why should it be a chore? Just because it’s for safety doesn’t mean it has to be irritating. So  if anyone has any ideas about where I can get a cotton lab coat designed for women, that comes in different lengths, please let me know. If not, I need to get hold of a sewing machine...

Posted by Polly-Anna Ashford on Mar 6, 2012 11:25 AM GMT

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