10 ways to keep busy during 5-minute incubations

A lighthearted look at 5-minute incubations: #10 is our favourite. Shortlisted for The Cancer Researcher-EACR Science Communication Prize

by Cora Olpe

Today I would like to discuss one of the wet lab scientist’s biggest mental challenges: The 5-minute incubation. Often encountered during immunohistochemistry or western blotting techniques, those incredibly awkward few minutes cannot be filled with anything useful but are simply too long to just stand there idly and twiddle your gloved thumbs. (I mean you can, but sweet Jesus Einstein was SO right about time being relative and all that.)

I personally go mental if I don’t do SOMETHING during those intervals. So, I have come up with a list of at least half-useful activities one can enjoy during these intervals. And because I am feeling generous today I am sharing it with you:

1Go to the toilet.

If it’s close by you can definitely make it for a #1.

2(Related to #1). Take a photocopy of yourself.

5-minute incubations
Image from Flickr licensed under CC BY 2.0

(If your photocopier is close by and it’s late at night). I’ve never actually done this one but it does sound somewhat intriguing and I’ve seen it in comic books.

3Empty your bins.

I bet they are spilling over.

4Empty your bench neighbour’s bins.

Wow, a good deed and not being bored, all in one act. Amazing.

5Post a picture on Instagram.

Credit: EACR member Pablo Hurtado on Instagram

Might fill TWO incubations if you add enough hashtags, e.g. #imascientistgetmeoutofhere (which has been used a whopping 12 times so far!) or #proudcancerresearcher.

6Look for dinner recipes online.

Can be combined with #5 the next day once you’ve taken a picture of what you’ve cooked.

7Scroll through the news online.

Might be pretty depressing, so I personally only resort to this one if I’m rather desperate.

8Skim through the titles of the latest edition of Nature.

(#keen. Can be combined with #5 by sharing interesting papers on social media)

9Chat to people in your lab

About the weather (if you’re in a British lab). Or the weekend. Or Sacha Baron Cohen’s latest TV show (actually that last one works a treat!)


Squats… as demonstrated by Cora Olpe and her colleagues

So there you have it. Never will you ever be bored again during your 5-minute incubations. Apply them in rotation and you will turn into the master of tidiness, small talk, and become a fitness guru at the same time! You could also use dice to determine which one you are going to do next. Might cause slight issues with double #1s, #3s or #4s but I’ll let you figure out a solution for that yourself. You could use a 5 min incubation for that purpose.


Cora OlpeAbout the author

Cora Olpe is a PhD student at the University of Cambridge. She is fascinated by all things related to stem cells. Currently, she is trying to understand how intestinal epithelium turns into a mosaic of mutations as humans age. Cora is a swimmer and author of a brain health book.

She’s been a member of the EACR since 2017. Contact her by email or read her blog here: http://coravsphd.blogspot.com

About this article

This is one of our shortlisted entries for The Cancer Researcher-EACR Science Communication Prize. Click to read the winner and the rest of our amazing shortlist.