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.

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.

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.

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.

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