benchwork

Wearing Gloves?

You wear gloves at the bench for one of two reasons: Either to protect YOU from your experiment, or to protect your experiment from you. (Okay, sometimes it's both at the same time.) In any case, gloved hands should never touch your face, arms, skin, or cell phone.

You can wash and dry gloved hands (or use ethanol on them) to clean as needed. However, before you do, ask your research advisor for guidelines so you always make the safe choice. In some cases, it's better to discard the gloves and get a fresh pair.

Hinge Up, Down, or Random?

When placing your tubes in the microcentrifuge, If your research supervisor doesn’t have a preference, then always place the tubes hinge up. If you develop this habit, it will serve you well. For example, if you have a pellet after the spin, you’ll always know that it will be opposite the hinge. If the pellet is hard to see, or instead of a pellet there is a streak of material on the side of the tube, you’ll know the side of the to avoid when pipetting off excess liquid.

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.

Lab Cell Phone Tip #3: When Something Doesn't Look Right

When you're conducting an experiment or doing a technique, take photos of anything that looks “odd” if your research mentor isn't around to help.

Sometimes, it's easier to describe and troubleshoot a problem if you have a photo to go along with a statement such as: “I don’t think my culture lysed correctly," or "When I filtered the solution, it looked chunky," or "The tissue kept tearing on the microtome."

Obviously, this won't work for all kinds of wet benchwork (such as enzymatic reactions), but when a photo could be helpful it's a great resource to have.

Even Water Needs a Label

Establishing good habits at the bench ensures that you don't have to remember all the little details and can focus on the big picture of your experiment. So, label everything during an experiment. Even if it's just a tube of water, and even if you'll only need it for a few minutes.

Read the Troubleshooting Section Before You Need It

Every research kit contains a protocol manual with a troubleshooting section that explains the most common mistakes made with the kit at the research bench. If the kit procedure fails, the first thing most scientists do is turn to the troubleshooting section to determine if the reason could have been Operator Error.