Overcoming Instrument Stress

One bad experience with a scientific instrument can make it a stressful experience using it every time afterwards. That summarizes my relationship with a particular microscope in my department.

This  transmission electron microscope (TEM) requires a slow, steady and cautious sample input/output procedure. During one training session, I’d been warned that poor handling of the sample holder during the  insertion/extraction steps would result in crashing the column vacuum. That I was alerted to the sensitivity of the vacuum set in my mind that putting in and taking out the sample were challenging tasks I should be scared about. And lo and behold, during my training session, with a slightly racing heart and trembling hands, I inadvertently pulled out the sample holder incorrectly and crashed the vacuum. Not only was the vacuum crashed, but my own confidence in my science abilities also took a dive, which was further worsened by my training partner’s frustrated facial expressions. I apologized amid tense silences and left for home.

Thu began my uneasy relationship with the microscope, with avoidance being my route of relief. I went to later sessions with the mindset that I despised the machine and was despairingly bored of having to undergo further training sessions. As my peers had already seemingly mastered use of the microscope by now, I felt somewhat left out of their conversations about it. Further, the fact that I had to get additional training sessions from said peers, dare I say,  somewhat hurt my ego.

So after months of believing the instrument was my foe, I had to face it again for an assessment of my user abilities so that I could be approved to use it on my own. I was not looking forward to this day. As I had an afternoon session booked, I decided to go for lunch at a Chinese restaurant to attempt to calm myself with good food :). There, I phoned my mom and had an encouraging conversation, during which she told me to change my negative mindset.

Feeling more relaxed, I set forth to my assessment. I took several deep breaths, patted the microscope desk area peacefully and telepathically told it to befriend me. This communication was obviously one-sided- just me and an inanimate microscope. But the positive message was meant for myself. I was not going to succumb to my irrational anxiety of using it anymore. The affirmative inner narrative voice was strengthened.

My assessment turned out fine. There were no glitches during sample handling. The situation was handled. 🙂

So that’s the story of me overcoming my microscope nerves. My advice here is to telepathically communicate with your scientific instruments…. I joke. ;P

If you’re experiencing something similar and you wake up dreading the use of a piece of equipment in your lab or a certain software because of prior bad encounters or even just novice wariness, take a deep breath. Believe that the instrument is not out to get you. You got this!



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