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.

Hinge Up, Down, or Random?

When placing your tubes in the microcentrifuge, If your research supervisor doesn’t have a preference, then always place the tubes hinge up. If you develop this habit, it will serve you well. For example, if you have a pellet after the spin, you’ll always know that it will be opposite the hinge. If the pellet is hard to see, or instead of a pellet there is a streak of material on the side of the tube, you’ll know the side of the to avoid when pipetting off excess liquid.

Schedule Your Lab Time (Even if Your Research Supervisor Doesn't Require it)

Even if you're given the option of showing up 'whenever,' schedule your research time because doing so will lead to more advantages than having a spontaneous schedule.

Although there are several advantages to scheduling your lab time, three are:

Don't Guess and Grab

In a lab, many reagents look similar either in color or formula and substituting one for another can cause substantial frustration for both you and your mentor. Back in the day, one of my student's experiment failed several times before I realized he was substituting EDTA for EGTA. That one letter made all the difference...

Whether you're new to the lab or in a hurry, double check your notes and the bottle label to make sure you have the correct one.

Oh, What a Difference a New Sharpie Makes

Research has enough disappointments and surprises that are beyond our control. So, there is no reason that you should ever struggle with low ink or faded labels.

At the bench, you might use a Sharpie as much as a pipette, calculator, or rack. (It's safe to bet that you use one as much as you use microcentrifuge tubes.)

A worn out pen is a seemingly small frustration but it's a hassle you don't need--save your energy for the big problems.

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.

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