Tips & Tricks

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 might serve you well--depending on the type of research you do.

For example, if you have a pellet after the spin, you’ll always know that it will be opposite the hinge*. If instead of a pellet, you have a streak of material on the side of the tube, you'll know which side 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:

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.

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).

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.

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