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Fear of isotopes - anyone has good advice? (Jul/12/2011 )

Hello all!

Long time no see ;-)
I am nearing the end of my PhD now, switching the lab was a brilliant idea and I only regret I haven't done it earlier.
One problem darkens my existence, though, this is a silly one. I think I've developed a phobia of radioactive isotopes :/ I am working with them sometimes, P32 or S35. I've tried to explain myself that these are small doses, educated myself extensively on the issue, and just tried to force myself and go through it. My human brain understands, my "reptile brain" doesn't. I still have stomach problems each time I prepare to pipet from the source, and it's been a year.
As a researcher, I am thouroghly screwed with it. This is a versatile, well working, widely used technique and I doubt I'd say to my future PI "sorry, isotopes are out of limit". I have to fight it, but how? Did anyone have a similar problem and how did you beat it?


Hi Telomerase, take it easy. You should be fine if you follow all the rules for working with isotopes and be careful.


I can understand it.
And you are not the only one. There are labs that bann all work with radiotopes, just because it is dangerous and it requiers certain measurements.

And what you have is something a lot of people have: being afraid for stuff..
Most other people are afraid of less rational things like black cats or ladders or...

You just happen to be afraid for something you work with.. And either you manage to solve this yourself by being rational and realising its safe if you are working with it on a proper way. Or you get some professional help.
Another option is of course never to work with it.. but I suppose this is not an option?

I just wonder one thing: are you someone that is very organised, very meticulous and a bit uncertain about yourself ? If so: a lot of people that are like that have a lot of stress/fear of failing or doing something wrong.. and if you work with dangerous stuff.. then this could be a problem.
If you are the kind of person that aims for the stars (always wanting to have 20/20, if you get my point) then its possible you should try to adress this first because your fear might be a consequence of this pressure to do extremely well.

(I am not saying you should not care about your work, but there is a difference in doing a good job, relaxed, and doing a good job all stresses out of fear you do something wrong.. selfconcidence is important).

Someone once said this: a bombtechnician is extremely concentrated but at the same time very very very relaxed (and very stable/sure of himself)... see the idea ? Stress/fear can be your friend, but also your enemy..
People that are easly spoked, scared, stressed, they wouldn be good bombtechnicians..
Same principle applies for people working at nuclear plants, in biohazard labs.. : they need to be 100% sure of what they do, but at the same time they cant afford to stress out al the time.

I can be wrong and maybe your fear has nothing to do with being stressed, scared.. and its just a fobia like many other people have.. if this is the case, then you need to adress the fobia itself and then like I said: manage it yourself (but this doesnt seem to work, since you allready said you looked at it rationaly) or get some help (psychologist, helpgroup.. friends, co-workers..)


Thanks, pito. Well, yes, I am that kind of person - a little bit of a perfectionist. I am always more afraid that I will cause problems for others than for myself. I mean, it's enough if I fail something, it happens, but I wouldn't like to be a nuisance. Which I am when I can't do my job right, so I have to do it, but I am afraid, and there goes the full circle.
It seems to get gradually better now. Avoiding pipetting from the source with a full stomach was a good idea, so in time I can maybe get rid of this Pavlovian reaction. I take all the precautions in case I'd actually spill something, so I can clean up fast and easily.