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.

Make Lab Friends. Not Enemies

"When a supply is low, tell the person who needs to know."

When we asked researchers to share their pet peeves with us, discovering that a regent or supply was empty and had not been reordered was near the top of the list--for everyone.

Many supplies take a few days or longer to arrive at the lab—they can’t be picked up locally in a pinch. A labmate, for example, can’t run out to Target to in the middle of the night to purchase ligase and complete their cloning reaction.

When You Don't Get It, Don't Pretend That You Do

If you don't get what your research supervisor is instructing you to do, ask for clarification until it makes sense and you fully understand the plan. You can't fake your way through your project.

Sometimes it’s unnerving to ask for clarification when you don’t immediately grasp a concept or understand a statement your supervisor or mentor says. He might seem rushed or distracted. You worry that she will think less of you for needing a more detailed explanation.

One Bad Lab Habit to Avoid

Hands down, one of the more boring parts of research is the prep work.

Who wants to check if there is ligase, sterile flasks, or enough 5M sodium chloride? In truth, no one does. It’s infinitely more satisfying to get started on the pipetting, mixing, separating, vortexing, or spinning and plan to grab what you need when you need it.

Your Spare Time is a Limited Resource: Use it Wisely

Managing your time in college is more complicated than setting a schedule. Among other things, it's also important to regularly ask yourself, "Am I involved in activities that are important to me, or do I participate in them because it's important to someone else?"

It's not uncommon to join a campus club or group as a favor to a friend or because you've read that membership will look good on your future applications. But, if you're not feeling it, it's better to walk away.

Take a Break. Renew. Reboot.

Sometimes, the best plan is to take a break from the chaos and embrace a little bit of 'me time.'

Especially when you're nearing the end of an intense research experience or semester, it can be hard to focus. And even the little things can seem to take more effort than they should. The crushing feeling of "responsibly overload" always happens at the worst time--when you have soooo much to do and most of it is tied to a deadline.

Don't Let Hungry Become Hangry

Bring a snack to lab everyday and take the time to eat it. If the lab doesn’t have a designated food area, excuse yourself to the hallway, the lobby, or outside for a few minutes when needed.

If you start your lab after your classes are wrapped up for the day, that snack can make all the difference in your ability to get work done, to focus on a challenging problem, or to let it go when a labmate is irritating.

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