5 Survival Tips for Summer Research

05
Jun

5 Survival Tips for Summer Research

—from the Researcher’s bench

After publishing the blog post “10 Things to Expect” I received requests for some summer research “survival tips.” I’m happy to provide the same tips I give my new undergrads at the start of a summer experience.

  1. Don't overdo it. When you have “all day” it’s easy to become overly ambitious with your to-do list and overestimate what you can accomplish. If you do this too often, you’ll risk burnout—and if it’s bad enough it will last longer than the summer. Make a daily to-do list, but don’t rush through it just to get it done. If a few things need to roll to the next day’s list so be it. Try to think of redistributing your tasks as being ahead in making your next list—not behind in accomplishing research tasks. Sometimes, accomplishing fewer things, but doing them all well, is key to your success in the lab.
  2. Bring a snack everyday. And another snack. Whether your research is wetlab or dry lab, in addition to your lunch you’ll need a snack for the middle-of-the-day energy slump. Research can get busy so you can’t count on having the time to run out for one. Easy to pack items such as granola bars, a bagel, yogurt, cheese and crackers, Poptarts, or a banana can make all the difference when you need something fast. You’ll be surprised how many additional calories you can burn by doing lab work, and how quickly the cost of convenience snacks from the vending machine adds up!
  3. Be direct about your schedule. For example, if you’re asked: “How late can you stay at the lab tonight?” don’t answer with, “Whenever—it doesn’t matter.” Because it does matter. If you give open-ended answers, you might find yourself finishing up alone, at 4 AM, exhausted and hangry (especially if you already ate your snacks and the vend machine takes your money without giving you food). Always give a time window even if it isn’t precise such as “7:30 to 9:30,” or your absolute cut-off time “8 PM.”
  4. Build in breaks. What works best for you will probably be guided by how you best recharge during the day and whether you’re more of an introvert or an extrovert. You might want to microwave some Easy Mac and stare into space while eating it, take a short walk, or chat about a great movie or your weekend plans with labmates, give yourself some time away from the science. Taking breaks can increase focus on an experiment or a problem you’re trying to solve. Plus, it makes your summer research experience more enjoyable if you find a little time each day to interact with labmates socially, or take some down-time when needed.
  5. Prioritize your notebook. No one enjoys updating their notebook. When you have more time in the lab, it’s easier to put off proper note taking—and sometimes a few days can go by without an update. With this approach, your notebook can become a colossal source of stress and a burden. Make time every day to update your notebook so the accuracy isn’t compromised by relying on memory. The best approach is to update as you go, but if you can’t at least set aside an hour at the end of each lab day for your notebook.