Organisation - December 23, 2015

‘Radix is not open long enough’

Lieke de Kwant

Radix is not open long enough on public holidays and at weekends, claim researchers at the Plant Sciences Group (PSG). They are often forced to adapt or postpone their experiments.

Radix is largely populated by PSG staff. The building is open from 7 till 22 hours from Monday to Thursday, from 7 to 21 hours on Friday and from 10 to 16 hours at weekends. On public holidays it is usually open from 12 to 14 hours. Those two hours are too short for PhD candidate Christina May of the Genetics laboratory. ‘What I need to do in the lab every Friday takes three hours. So with Christmas Day falling on a Friday this year, I had a problem. I have now adjusted my experiment.’ The short opening hours were a problem for another researcher in Genetics too. Florien Gorter: Over a period I repeatedly needed to conduct an eight-hour experiment five days in a row. If there was a public holiday during the week, like Easter or Ascension Day, I lost a whole week. Really difficult.’

For Marjon de Vos, a Genetics researcher on a Veni grant, the main problem was access to the lab at weekends. ‘I need to prepare a bacterial culture in the evening for the next day. Because I can’t get into the building on Sunday evening, I can’t do any lab work on Mondays. So I lose one day every week and on a three-year grant I can’t afford that.’

The PhD Council of the Experimental Plant Sciences (EPS) graduate school would like longer opening hours at Radix at weekends, says chair Suraj Jamge. The council understands the argument against it – safeguarding a work-life balance – but for some experiments and in some phases of a study, working on at unconventional hours is simply unavoidable, says Jamge. And being hampered by limited opening hours only adds to the workload and the stress.

Professor of Genetics Bas Zwaan heard many complaints about the opening hours during the latest performance interviews. ‘When you are working with biological systems, it is very important to be able to access your experiments at all times. As a postdoc in London I could even work on New Year’s Day. And in Leiden you could sleep on a camp bed in the lab if necessary.’

All that is possible in Radix too, on request, but the additional costs – for extra security, for instance – are charged to the chair group concerned. Zwaan bought extra time four times in the past year, but wonders if there isn’t a better way to go about this. ‘Why should a small group bear those costs alone, while groups which use our data don’t pay anything towards them?’ The professor would like to discuss the issue soon with the management at PSG.

‘The fundamental scientific process must run smoothly,' responds Erik Toussant, head of communication at PSG. ‘If this means rethinking the opening hours, the management will do so. Although there are limits of course; it has to be financially feasible.’