Motivation in Automation

How do you stay motivated in a role that is very repetitive?

This is a popular question either seen in job applications or more commonly thrown at you when you get to the interview stage. It could quickly point out someone who freezes at the thought of performing what could be the most boring tasks everyday at their new job, just to make ends meet. Or it could bring out the best of the creative minds who excel either at self-motivation or at talking their way out of any situation. But still. It’s a question that we must all answer… be it through words or actions.

Now, my story begins with my wife. When she gets a few minutes break from looking after our two very young sons, she’s in the job market hunting and getting herself into that state of mind. So, she hit me with the question which she found online. I must admit I had never been asked that before but I already had an answer ready. As a husband, quite often you find that you always have an answer ready, even if it’s a smart-ass unnecessary one. But this time it was not. This time I really responded. I felt like I actually transported myself into my workplace environment and re-lived my daily routines, describing with enthusiasm how I easily overcome boredom, but more importantly how I constantly challenge myself. From her perspective, I seemed to be just sitting at the dining table staring at a blank wall regurgitating what appeared to be a well-rehearsed script from a dream.

I work in the Clinical Biochemistry department of a Blood Sciences lab for the largest independent provider of clinical laboratory diagnostic services in the UK. It is a statement that I should feel proud to hand out to strangers I meet, but really my role is that of an Advanced Medical Laboratory Assistant in the Automation section, specialising in pre and post analytics. To simplify it even further, I run and maintain two laboratory instruments — the Cobas Modular Pre-Analytics Evo and Cobas P612 by Roche Diagnostics.

Cobas P 612

These are pre-analytical instruments primarily used to prepare patient specimens for analysis by automating the process of centrifuging, de-capping, aliquot preparation for online and offline analysis, and archiving as required. With regards to the P 612, you simply load a blood specimen into the input section, watch the instrument gripper arm take the specimen and load it onto a transport system that drives it to the output section where the sample is sorted into one of many targets depending on the diagnostic tests requested. This process usually takes just a few seconds for just one specimen. Loading specimens in batches extends this time to several minutes — we usually process roughly 2500 to 3000 specimens in a working day. I advise you to check out the linked videos above.

Now, I like to think of myself as someone who is enthusiastic about technology in general so, once the job was offered to me (I was transferred from the Specimen Reception department, another role plagued by repetition but without automation), I quickly accepted. I could finally combine my love for technology with my background in Biomedical Science to make a real difference in people’s lives. But this is all automated and I’m repetitively loading and unloading specimens from these instruments. To be honest, a robot could easily replace me, and one day my role in its current form will be replaced by robots — and that excites me. Sure, there are other administrative tasks I have to complete but it is my work with the instruments that I love the most. It’s the thought that though it seems repetitive, in practice it actually isn't. I constantly find myself making improvements to the overall process where I see fit and challenging myself to go even further, always questioning what I already know in order to learn even more.

MPA (bottom left) & 2xP612 (top left)

The setup in my workplace laboratory is very different to this, but mostly the same analytical instruments. As a scientist who loves what he/she does, imagine coming into work everyday knowing you can outdo yourself in improving what already seems like a well-established workflow.

To put this all in as few words as I can — I do what I love and I love what I do. That’s what motivates me. Best of all, the senior staff notice.

Inspired by words from Benjamin Hardy & Shane.

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