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Submitted by mmartini on


Hi Folks,

This was in the latest "Things I Think I Think", Mark called it the worst email ever:

Dear All,

Many of our toothpicks (in some cases over 50%) are upside down in the beakers. I've told you about this all so many times that I seriously hope none of you are responsible. Wide end goes at the bottom...even if you spill a beaker full you MUST go through and put them all back wide end at the bottom.

The other possibility is that the autoclave guys are spilling them. If so, you can help to prevent this by NOT re-using tattered foil lids. Again, I've asked you not to do this before, but now is the time to get serious about it. The foil lid should be a four-fold thickness and of sufficient size to be firmly attached to the beaker. Ask me for a demo of how to make such a lid if you need one. If the existing foil lid is in bad condition, do not re-use considerate to your colleagues. Basically, if you think that the condition of the lid will make it likely to come off when handled by Earl et al. then PLEASE make a new one according to the aforementioned specifications.

I'm warning you now...I will be on a major public witch hunt in the lab if I see upside down toothpicks in the used beakers at your bench or beakers of toothpicks put into the autoclave tray with inadequate lids.



My question is this:  I work in a science environment.  How the foil lid is folded might actually be really important to getting good, unquestionable results from an experiment.  So I get where the angst is coming from.  I'm not saying the email was good though.  I've actually seen something similar play out here and it was not a constructive way to approach the problem.

So... anyone else out there have to deal with such nit-picky things, and how do you approach it?  My first reaction was, ouch, don't use public humiliation.  OK, feedback model - but adjusting feedback to so many for a long time? 



mattpalmer's picture

... is that it helps you to let go of all the useless nitpicky stuff.  If you can't come up with something for "here's what happens" that doesn't make you sound like a nutcase, then you don't give the feedback.  In this case, however, I'd say that the author of the e-mail lacks the self-awareness to realise what makes you sound like a nutcase.  It works pretty well for me, though, and helps to keep under wraps the worst excesses of my need to control ALL THE THINGS.