Tips & Tricks

Do You Know Why Your Research Matters?

What is ever better than getting an exciting research result? Understanding why it's important!

Learning the background information associated with your project is an essential step to understanding the full significance of your research project. Background information includes learning the basic information about your project, why it's important, and how it supports the overall research goals of the lab. The more background you understand, the more you'll be able to contribute to all parts of your project.

Two Reasons To Present Your Research Every Chance You Get!

There are many reasons you should put yourself though the special kind of stress that accompanies presenting your research. This post will cover two.

1) To build your resume or CV. Whether you apply for a fellowship, scholarship, or med/grad/prof school, the more presentations you have to list the better off you'll be. Most selection committees rank research presentations as a quality-rich activity.

Predicting the Future

Before starting an experiment, you should be able to predict what the results will be if you're successful, and what the results might be if you're not.

Although you won't be able to anticipate every possible outcome for every experiment, knowing the probable ones before you start will help you understand and correctly interpret the results you get.

Not only will this help you become a more independent researcher, but also it will help you make a more meaningful connection with your project.

Even If You Know What's in it, Label It!

When you're in a rush to wrap up your lab day, it may be temping to save a little time and not label a tube, bottle, or component--after all you know what it is. But that is a sure recipe for disaster.

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.

Schedule Your Lab Time (Even if Your Research Supervisor Doesn't Require it)

Even if you're given the option of showing up 'whenever,' schedule your research time because doing so will lead to more advantages than having a spontaneous schedule.

Although there are several advantages to scheduling your lab time, three are:

Don't Guess and Grab

In a lab, many reagents look similar either in color or formula and substituting one for another can cause substantial frustration for both you and your mentor. Back in the day, one of my student's experiment failed several times before I realized he was substituting EDTA for EGTA. That one letter made all the difference...

Whether you're new to the lab or in a hurry, double check your notes and the bottle label to make sure you have the correct one.

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.

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