I am a stickler for cleanliness in the lab. If I spill something, I clean it up immediately. I wash my glassware as I go. (I wash dishes as I make dinner at home, too.) And after almost ten years of parenting Cub and Boy Scouts, it’s second nature to try to leave the lab cleaner than when I arrived.
Of course, I try to make sure that my students behave in a similar fashion, because I don’t want to clean up after them. All equipment must be put away before I will sign their lab notebooks at the end of class, and I dole out lots of kudos for those who wipe down their section of the lab bench before leaving.
Last semester I taught quant lab in the first time slot of the week. I came in one day to find that, over the weekend, some group had come in and left huge quantities of dirty glassware all over the lab. I spent the rest of the period washing glassware whenever I had a chance, trying to get the lab back to its normally clean state. The whole time, I cursed the people who hadn’t washed up: “Making me wash your dishes? I don’t even wash dishes for my kids! If I ever find out who you are, I’ll…” My students found this very amusing.
With my emphasis on cleanliness in the lab, I guess it shouldn’t have been surprising when a student stopped by my office for the first time, took one look at my work area, and said, “Wow, UnlikelyGrad…I thought your desk would be a little cleaner than this.”
Gee, why? Messy desks aren’t safety hazards. They don’t affect results. Why should I care? I know where everything is…and when I don’t (usually about every two weeks), I straighten things up. In the mean time, I’ll keep my piles of papers, thank you very much.