Tips & Tricks

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.

Your Spare Time is a Limited Resource: Use it Wisely

Managing your time in college is more complicated than setting a schedule. Among other things, it's also important to regularly ask yourself, "Am I involved in activities that are important to me, or do I participate in them because it's important to someone else?"

It's not uncommon to join a campus club or group as a favor to a friend or because you've read that membership will look good on your future applications. But, if you're not feeling it, it's better to walk away.

Take a Break. Renew. Reboot.

Sometimes, the best plan is to take a break from the chaos and embrace a little bit of 'me time.'

Especially when you're nearing the end of an intense research experience or semester, it can be hard to focus. And even the little things can seem to take more effort than they should. The crushing feeling of "responsibly overload" always happens at the worst time--when you have soooo much to do and most of it is tied to a deadline.

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.

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.

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