Extra Responsibility = Praise for a Job Well Done


Extra Responsibility = Praise for a Job Well Done

— from the Researcher's bench

One of the differences between instructional lab classes and research in a professional lab is how feedback is given.

In an instructional lab, you have quizzes, lab reports, an attendance policy, exams, and possibly out-of-class assignments—all attached to a point system outlined in the syllabus. For most instructional labs, you can calculate your grade and therefore know whether or not you’re excelling.

In a research lab, it isn’t so clear cut. Your research mentor doesn’t grade your agarose gel, or the sharpness of your PCR bands. He doesn’t require you to create three cloning molecules by a certain date for a letter grade, or use any official grading system that involves points. Because almost all undergrads receive letter grade of “A” when taking research for GPA credit, and the PI determines the grade, a letter grade is not accurate feedback to determine if you’re excelling in the research lab.

Although there are several ways to tell how well your mentor believes you are performing in the lab, I’ll focus on one: when you’re asked to do more.

For example, if your mentor asks you to drop by the lab for a few minutes on the weekend (or outside your regular lab hours) to start a culture, quickly set up an experiment, or do some other task, it’s a good sign. The same goes for being asked to help with additional lab chores or to assist on someone else's project for the day. When you are given extra responsibility in the lab, it means that your mentor recognizes it’s time for you to become more self-reliant in the lab, and is guiding you in that direction. It also means that your mentor believes it's worth his time to invest more in you and your long-term success, because he believes that it will be beneficial to you, himself, and the lab.

So the next time your mentor asks you to do extra work, think of it as a round of applause for a job well done!