Tips & Tricks

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.

Where is the What, Now?

Over the course of your undergrad research experience, you'll have opportunities to develop a strong sense of self-reliance. The more you choose to do so the more rewarding research experience you'll have, and the stronger your recommendation letters from your research professor will be.

Set Goals and Create Outlines Every Semester

Even if your research advisor doesn't require it, it's important to keep track of your research goals and project objectives. At the start of each semester, make a list of three things you want to learn or accomplish. After, create an outline of your undergrad research project. Include the main objectives & the techniques you’ll use.

Mistakes Happen: Don't Panic

Did you make a mistake? Don't panic. What might feel like a tragic mishap to you could be easy for someone with more research experience to fix. So don't panic, and don't throw anything out. Simply take a deep breath and ask your research advisor what can be done. If you need help starting the conversation, use the words: "This is hard for me to say but...." and follow with: "What can I do to fix it?" And keep this in mind: when you watch how someone with more experience troubleshoots, you learn how to solve problems in the process.

Need the Incubator That a Labmate is Using?

Someone ruining or needlessly complicating a labmate's experiment is the third most common complaint people tell us about their labmates. (And it doesn't matter much to the inconvenienced researcher if the labmate believed that they were being helpful.)

Making Chemicals and Solutions

If you work out the math once, save it on an index card so it is easy to use at the scale or at your research bench. It’s likely you’ll make the reagent, solution, or medium again.

Also, use an app or calculator to get the math right the first time. The most expensive chemical in the lab is the one that is made up wrong, and everyone uses. It's always worth your time to double-check.

That Chore You Hate? Chances are Your Labmates Feel the Same Way.

Some research work isn't exciting. Racking pipette tips, autoclaving waste, making media, or washing dishes definitely fit in this category.

However, if you try to think of your research-related chores as "community service" that helps everyone in the lab, it might be its easier to find the motivation to get them done. Also, your willingness to help out and do a good job, even on the boring tasks, will be recognized as solid teamwork by your labmates. This matters to your success in the lab more than you can possibly imagine.

Heading to a Research Interview?

As tempting as can be to end your search and accept the first research position you're offered, only do so if you are genuinely interested in the project, topic, or techniques. Equally important is only accepting the position if you can uphold the required time commitment without compromising you academics (and that you WANT to).

Both your happiness and success in the lab are tied to a genuine interest in the work, and having enough time to devote to the project.

Career Path Honesty

When you apply to an undergrad research position, be honest about your career path. For most lab positions, it won't matter if you are premed, pregrad, or headed for the job market after graduation, or undecided.

If your career path matters to the lab, and you aren't on the "preferred" track for a position, then you won't want to join the lab anyway. You want to join a lab that will help you meet your personal and professional goals.

Handling the F-word (Failure)

When you start a project in a research lab you’re bound to have a few hiccups at the research bench. Mistakes are an unavoidable part of learning something new or acquiring new skills. However, also keep in mind that how you react to failure will tell your labmates how easy you'll be to work with in the long run.

Your labmates will be much more willing to help you fix a problem or prevent one in the future if you stay positive. It's okay to be disappointed when something goes wrong --just develop a strategy to stay positive and be resilient.