tips

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.

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.

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.

Sometimes Friends Just Don't Understand

Ever have one of those great moments in the lab that you try to explain to a friend who doesn't do research and their response is a blank look or an understated, "That's....great....?"

Moments such as getting the exact amount of chemical you need in a single scoop, pouring the exact number of pipette tips out you need to fill the last box, or having the exact number of microliters left in a tube to set up your reaction. Sometimes those little moments brighten our day, but non-lab friends simply don't get why they are exciting.

Is Senior Status Too Late to Find a Research Position?

The short answer: No, it's not too late.

Although it can be more challenging to find a lab position, and be able to finish a project so close to graduation, there are projects for students who have completed all major core requirements. Some labs even have projects that require senior status.

The main challenges you'll face will be to find a lab that accepts seniors or to persuade a mentor to choose you over someone who could be around longer.

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