After meeting for breakfast in Mac, my lab partner and I took an Uber to Fenway. Boston was just waking up to a gray Sunday morning, but we had already leaped out of the backseat and were walking determinedly toward Blick Art Materials. We strode into the store on a mission to buy materials for our final poster presentation in our introductory biology lab. You wouldn’t think the two laughing friends running around Blick’s were the same two nervous students who had dressed in blue lab coats and purple latex gloves on the first day of class.
Everyone who’s taken a science lab at Boston College would agree that the extra hours working in lab and writing reports for an apathetic TA to give you an arbitrary grade in a one-credit course is a form of cruel and unusual punishment. But they’re getting too far ahead of themselves—everyone in lab knows that your entire experience in the course depends on who’s assigned to be your lab partner on the first day.
Being lab partners with a total stranger definitely makes you more aware of being your brother’s keeper just to cover yourself. The lab experience is a gamble—your performance depends on how well you and your partner work together, so if he or she slacks or is too overbearing, both of your grades suffer. I guess the seeds that produce stereotypically neurotic and socially inept scientists are planted in these poor lab experiences.
Memories of previous chemistry lab experiences floated on the outskirts of my mind as I walked into bio lab for the first time. I desperately wanted to shrug off the past, to remind myself that this class was in a subject area I was interested in, to hold my head up high and give myself a fresh start. Because of the structure of the class, students worked in groups of three for the semester. I practically linked arms with my two friends as we walked into the lab room, only to have our small band forced apart and scattered in different directions.
I was assigned to work with two people I’d never met before, but reminded myself I would just have to deal with the hand I was dealt. Our group of three worked fine for the first week, but when the third person in our group suddenly withdrew from the class, we were left as the only duo in bio lab. I cautiously approached this new dynamic, always trying to do my fair share of the work and silently hoping my partner wouldn’t be too judging of me. While we had to do more work than the other groups, we learned to support each other with each experiment we performed, presentation we prepared, and report we wrote. It turned out that we shared common interests but were still able to learn something new from each other. For example, I learned some Russian vocabulary from my lab partner, and she learned just how bad organic chemistry was from me.
With the blooming of the first buds of spring came the realization that bio lab was coming to a close. Students and TAs alike became more lighthearted, joking around a little bit more and playing their Spotify playlists a little bit louder. When it came time to start working on our final poster presentation, we already knew that we would put as much effort as possible into this assignment, as we had for all the other ones.
So the idea was to go to Blick’s, get everything we needed, and head back to campus. After running around like kids in a candy store and checking cardstock, glue sticks, and push pins off our shopping list, we stopped by a table display next to the cashiers. The shiny covers of coloring books drew us to the shelf, and with a knowing smile we threw two Lost Ocean coloring books and two boxes of colored pencils into our basket and continued to the register. We left Blick’s with three plastic bags of art supplies and a celebratory gift to commemorate the end of our semester in lab.
It wasn’t until I was back in my dorm that I was able to take a closer look at the coloring book. The full title was Lost Ocean: An Inky Adventure & Coloring Book. I like to think the title is symbolic of the somewhat-masochistic journey that is lab. You’re assigned to a lab bench, paired with a partner and told to perform an experiment that no one knows the outcome of. It’s pretty much guaranteed that you’ll get lost somewhere along the way and not have a clue about what you’re doing, but having a friend with you is always a comforting thought. And even if you don’t get the experimental results you expected, you can always walk away with matching coloring books.
You might think it’s sad that I make friends in my classes, but I honestly prefer meeting other people that way instead of at dimly lit parties that reek of sweat and alcohol. I was downright lucky that I had such a positive experience in bio lab, but it also goes to show that you can meet new people and make friendships in the most serendipitous of places.
I like to think we ended up leaving Blick’s with more than just cardstock, glue, and coloring books—we left with a newfound friendship, too.
Featured Image by Kelsey McGee / Heights Editor