Work, Coworkers, and Love

This is, of course, an appropriate day to talk about love. I feel fortunate that I still love chemistry, and love being in the lab.

But what if find you have a different kind of chemistry with a coworker? This is not uncommon, in any workplace. You work closely alongside people with whom you have common interests—a nice starting point for a relationship. But if you find romance in a laboratory setting, how should the two of you behave on the job?

Hey! Where's my evaporating dish full of chocolates?

Aw, you got me some Erlenmeyer flasks. You must love me!
Courtesy Flickr user James Fraleigh

Such lab relationships are the topic of “Love in the Lab,” a recent article at Science Careers. The focus is primarily on academic laboratories, but many of the concerns could readily apply in other science workplace settings.

Apart from mutual understanding and moral support, a scientist couple can collaborate and help each other scientifically. But living a romance in the laboratory, as in any other workplace, is complicated.

To say the least. Workplace couples often find themselves often under intense scrutiny from their colleagues if they divulge their relationship:

Some laboratory couples may be inclined to keep their romance a secret, especially at first. But whether your relationship is public knowledge in the lab or kept private, it’s important to remain discreet and professional.

Regardless of the quality of the science performed by each individual, the couple can find their career progression viewed by others through a lens of suspicion:

One issue that can be especially damaging to young scientists is the perception by peers that career success is a result of a relationship and not scientific achievements.

The article continues with good advice regarding quite serious concerns of conflict of interest, abuse of trust, sexual harassment, and avoiding fallout after breakups.

In my career, I’ve know a few couples who have worked together in the lab, and all seemed to employ strategies to separate their relationship from their work. One colleague in such a relationship told me that “we never talk about chemistry at home.”

After my initial surprise this made sense, because there have been times, at home, when I’ve tried to describe some chemistry I’d been working on in detail. My wife—not a chemist—would listen attentively until her eyes glazed over a bit. This was, of course, my cue to change the subject. Now I try to keep things on a high level, like “I was able to get some tough chemistry to work today.” Or, more often, sadly, I’m venting about things that didn’t work. But that’s science for you.

Did I mention I love chemistry?

Happy Valentine’s Day!

Author: Glen Ernst

Chemistry and pharma researcher and manager. Lifelong passion for science, the arts and language. Blogger for CENtral Science, also blogging as The Scientist Next Door. LinkedIn:

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  1. This post is a more fitting use of my flask photo than I ever could have imagined. Well done! (And many thanks for the attribution!)

  2. Nice post.Find joy in everything you choose to do. Every job, relationship, home… it’s your responsibility to love it, or change it.