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.

Always be Direct When Asked About Your Schedule

If your research supervisor, PI, or labmate asks, “How late can you stay at the lab today?” don’t answer with: “Whenever—it doesn’t matter.” Because it does matter.

If you give an open-ended answer, you might find yourself finishing up alone, at 4 AM, exhausted and hangry (especially if you already ate your snacks and the vending machine takes your money without giving you food).

Technical Challenges in Research Aren't Embarrassing. They are Expected.

For most new researchers, lab work turns out to be more difficult and more complicated than anticipated--even with a solid background of lab classes. It takes time to gain the skills needed to be successful and learn proper technique.

This guest post is by Jacob Landis, a Grad In The Lab, who shares his perspective as a teaching assistant to undergrads in a lab course.

Molecular phylogenetics is used in a wide array of studies including those focused on plant systematics, diversity of birds, and tracking infectious diseases, just to name a few. Recently, we decided to incorporate a module for molecular phylogenetics into an undergraduate introductory lab class to expose students to practices done in some research labs.

What I like to do in my lab classes is to teach practical skills that students can take with them, and hopefully build upon once they get into a research lab.

Are You Doing Too Many Lab Chores?

Depending on the academic discipline and type of project you have, washing lab dishes might be part of your research experience.

However, if you’ve been in the lab for eight weeks and your entire research experience thus far has been washing dishes and doing random chores in the lab (such as dragging bags of autoclaved waste to the disposal site) then it’s time to ask the PI for a research project.

Do You Have All of Your Components in a Row?

Labs tend to be loud or chaotic places.

It's easy to space out for a few second and forget if you've added a component.

Here's a bench tip to help you stay on track: Line up your components in the order you need them. After adding one, move the tube back one row so you don't have to remember if you've already used it.

With this system, even if you lose focus for a few seconds, you'll remain on track. It takes a some time and practice to build this habit but you'll be glad you did when you can rely on muscle memory at the research bench.

—from the PI's desk

So far, the vast majority of the undergrads I’ve trained during my research career have been premed students.

With the numerous personal and professional advantages an in-depth research experience can provide, and how a successful research experience can support a medical school application, that is unlikely to change.

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