Mrs Hay of OpenLab@RI: Appreciation Week 2016

by Daphne Tang (16S03M), Liew Ai Xin (16A01A) and Lex-xis (16S03M)

Appreciation Week 2016 is a collaboration between Raffles Press and Students’ Council that aims to recognize and appreciate the non-teaching staff members who do a lot that we often don’t value enough. Though we do not normally see them around, the impact they have on our school lives is indispensable.

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Inside the Open Lab

Walk to Block E any day, and you will see a familiar sight: fans whirling overhead as students calmly handle beakers of coloured chemicals, staring expectantly at their set-ups with their fingers poised ready on their stopwatches. But who makes these bottles of chemicals appear? Who prepares the apparatus for every week’s science practicals? Raffles Press had the privilege to chat with Mrs. Hay, the resident laboratory officer to find out what happens behind the scenes at the OpenLab.

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Mrs Hay, resident Laboratory Officer at the OpenLab

Mrs. Hay, is in fact a veteran in this profession, having been in this line for many years in a succession of schools: first NUS (for 18 years), then a polytechnic and an MOE school, and now RI. Slight and soft-spoken, she takes care of the maintenance of equipment, budgeting and finances, procurement, as well as the many chemicals and materials that are brought into the lab for use in various research projects. 

At the OpenLab, Mrs. Hay’s duties are to ensure that proper rules and safety measures are strictly followed as students come in to pursue their own projects. The students that Mrs. Hay sees on a daily basis are, as she describes, “passionate about their work”. In fact, she adds with a fond smile, “There are some students who are not only good at science, but their character is also very impressive: very polite, and they know so much! Yet they’re so humble … I love those students!”

However, keeping the OpenLab spick and span does come with its challenges. In another life, she laughs, she probably could have been “a policewoman or a crime detective”, as the years of careful watch have trained Mrs. Hay to have a pair of eagle eyes; and she is very particular about, for example, “putting gloves on when one goes into the ‘wet lab’ section of the Open Lab”. While most RI students, as she says, are “very nice and polite”, she is especially appreciative when students clean up after themselves. One can certainly see the methodical approach she values in her own work cubicle, which boasts neatly labelled files, colour-coded in all their glory, as well as schedules, lists of microorganisms and contents carefully printed and pinned onto the walls for monitoring.

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The neatly organised tabulations on the deep freezer

Although preparation and research does take up a lot of her time, Mrs. Hay also values the opportunities she has had to learn about forensic science and crime scene investigation through workshops. It spices up the daily routine of her work in RI, and also makes her interested to stay on as her job does not feel “stagnant”. Needing to learn how to handle any new equipment that arrives at the labs, as well as sharing the knowledge with her colleagues keeps her on her toes.

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The Life Sciences Lab (also under Mrs. Hay’s domain)

Mrs. Hay also pointed out the hard work that the laboratory staff go through to prepare for the students’ practicals. For example, one titration experiment for a batch of 1000 over students requires large volumes of solutions: preparing one solution alone involves manually stirring a whole drum of chemicals. Afterwards, the staff will still have to dispense the solution(s) into thousands of small bottles for students’ use during practicals. But their work is not done: After the practical and students happily leave their emptied bottles in baskets at the front of the lab, the staff members still have to wash these bottles in preparation for the next round of refilling. All these amount to a lot of tough, physical labour, and Mrs. Hay hopes that the students will appreciate how much work goes on behind the scenes before 7:50AM in the morning.

Mrs Hay still had several positive messages for us, the most important of which being that “interest is the most important”. After meeting so many students from different walks of life, she firmly believes in our capabilities, and concludes that “the passion for what you have will let you go on even when the work gets very tough.” In the face of Mrs. Hay’s sunny smile, let us all remember to smile back, clean up our workbenches and give all lab staff and teaching staff a good day to remember!

Students’ Council will be setting up a booth in the canteen for students to write notes to non-teaching staff. Do come down to the booth and participate in this to show your appreciation!

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