Welcome to Undergrad in the Lab!

Undergraduate research can be incredibly rewarding, but where do you start and how do you succeed? Navigating this unfamiliar territory is not easy. Here you will find advice on how to find a research position, and how to get the most out of your experience.

Research is to see what everybody else has seen, and to think what nobody else has thought.

— Albert Szent-Györgi (1893-1986) U. S. biochemist.

— from the Researcher's bench and PI's desk

Why we wrote a book on finding an undergrad research position:

Whether you’re premed, pregrad, preprofessional, undecided, or headed for the job market after graduation, undergraduate research can help you define your career path and prepare for it. But if an undergraduate research experience is so important (and it is), and has so many potential benefits (which it does), why it is so difficult to find a research position?


Hey, Who Moved My Stuff?

— from the Researcher's bench

Recently, we received a request for help (edited here for brevity):

Thanks for all your great posts. As an undergrad in the lab, I'd like to know what your advice would be if your materials go missing. No one else in my lab uses it, and I have never used it myself. I have spoken to my coworkers to ask if they know anything about it, but no one has responded. I was just wondering if you had any tips regarding safeguarding one's materials in a lab? I feel surprised and a bit angry that somebody would move something not belonging to them in a lab.

Your Cell Phone is a Research Tool: Tip #1

Smart phones, when used appropriately, can give you a distinct advantage in the lab.

For example, rather than standing with the freezer door open trying to memorize which enzymes your lab has, use your phone to take a photo. Likewise, take a photo instead of jotting down the catalog number of each research component you need.

Then, head back to your desk where you can plan your experiment without needing to return to the freezer multiple times to double-check, or search for that piece of paper that you just had a second ago.

Poster Design: It Always Takes Longer

The first 30 minutes of designing a poster is the most fun. After that, it’s boredom, too many lattes, and a frenzied rush to finish it up by the deadline. If you’re designing your first poster, plan at least 30 hours from start to finish—it always takes longer than it seems like it should. For tips on creating any poster, check out: http://www.undergradinthelab.com/node/48

Even Water Needs a Label

Establishing good habits at the bench ensures that you don't have to remember all the little details and can focus on the big picture of your experiment. So, label everything during an experiment. Even if it's just a tube of water, and even if you'll only need it for a few minutes.

The Elusive Academic/Life Balance

It is only through the conscious practice of time-management, and prioritizing the activities that are important to you, that you will achieve a solid academic/life balance.

Take time at the end of each semester to ask yourself, "What worked for me, and what didn't?" Then, to help keep your priorities in check without becoming overextended, cut low-value activities, only continue with ones that make you happy, and make finding time for yourself a priority.