new to lab

Tip #1 for Full-Time Summer Researchers: Expect Fatigue

If you’ve decided to make the most of your summer by participating in a full-time research experience, you’re about to embark on a new, challenging adventure, and it won’t include much time for lounging.

During the summer, you might be in the lab more hours in a single day than you spent in the lab in an entire week during the semester. Standing, working, taking notes, and thinking about research for several hours (and days) in a row can be a difficult adjustment.

—from the Researcher's bench

The mysterious ways of mentors

Most mentors do a solid job informing a new undergrad of the basic requirements of a research position. Typically, they cover the expected time commitment, lab safety procedures, lab dress code, and guidelines for writing a pre-proposal or end-of-semester report. When it comes to working at the bench, most mentors remember to share technical tricks with a new researcher, and offer guidance on getting organized, programing equipment, and finding research supplies.

But sometimes, because we have been in science for a long time or because we are distracted by our own research goals, we forget what it was like to be a new undergrad adjusting to a professional lab environment.

Label Bottle Tops

At the start of a wetlab research experience, there is often more information to learn than is possible to remember. Even those who take great notes inevitably lose some details. One of the most common mistakes a new researcher makes is storing a chemical or reagent incorrectly.

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.

—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.