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

The mysterious ways of mentors

Most mentors do a solid job informing a new undergrad of the basic requirements of a research position. Typically, they cover the expected time commitment, lab safety procedures, lab dress code, and guidelines for writing a pre-proposal or end-of-semester report. When it comes to working at the bench, most mentors remember to share technical tricks with a new researcher, and offer guidance on getting organized, programing equipment, and finding research supplies.

But sometimes, because we have been in science for a long time or because we are distracted by our own research goals, we forget what it was like to be a new undergrad adjusting to a professional lab environment.

MicroInspiration: Do Undergrad Research

Quitting Time?

Sometimes, for a variety of reasons, your research experience doesn't work out. Maybe you don't like the lab culture, the project, don't have the time to dedicate to gain the skills you need, or you're simply overextended and need to cut something.

If you won’t continue with undergraduate research next term, but your advisor believes you plan to update them the next time you’re in lab. Yes, it will feel awkward but most advisors will be supportive of your decision. (And here's something: if they aren't, then you were definitely not in the right lab!)

Holiday Week? Be a Good Labmate Before you Go-Go!

If you're lucky enough to have a short academic week to celebrate a holiday, we hope you spend a little of that time out of the lab doing a little bit of nothing.

But before you wrap up at the lab, make sure that you've washed your dishes (if part of your weekly responsibilities), and completed any chores that are regularly assigned to you. You might be planning a few days of Netflix, catching up on sleep, and seeing old friends, but many of your labmates will use the academic break to get more done in the lab.

Label Bottle Tops

At the start of a wetlab research experience, there is often more information to learn than is possible to remember. Even those who take great notes inevitably lose some details. One of the most common mistakes a new researcher makes is storing a chemical or reagent incorrectly.

Wearing Gloves?

You wear gloves at the bench for one of two reasons: Either to protect YOU from your experiment, or to protect your experiment from you. (Okay, sometimes it's both at the same time.) In any case, gloved hands should never touch your face, arms, skin, or cell phone.

You can wash and dry gloved hands (or use ethanol on them) to clean as needed. However, before you do, ask your research advisor for guidelines so you always make the safe choice. In some cases, it's better to discard the gloves and get a fresh pair.