tips

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.

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).

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