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.

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.

—from the Researcher's bench

We heard from an undergrad in the lab about an awkward situation involving a friend in search of a research position. As usual, we edited the conversation for brevity and to remove identifying details so the student remains anonymous.

Who Owns "Your" Notebook?

Many students are surprised to learn that they don't actually own their research notebook. Depending on the institution's rules, your PI might not even own it--it could be considered property of your college or university.

Some PIs are fine with students making their own copies of a notebook at the end of their research experience, but others are not. Regardless, most will require you to leave the original copies in the lab for a variety of reasons.