Charles_Carmichael

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Hi, I'm sorry if this has been asked before but I tried searching and didn't find anything. I got an offer to work at a research lab this summer and I'm really excited, but I'm also a bit nervous. I'm mainly doing things like labelling test tubes, cleaning dishes, etc. at first, but I was told that they would like to train me up and eventually let me work on my own project. My first day is this Monday and I was wondering if anyone had any advice/tips or wanted to share their experiences when starting out. Thanks a lot; I appreciate any tips I can get! :)
 

ChubbyChaser

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Dont be afraid to quit..if youdont like it.
 

Wylde

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Hi, I'm sorry if this has been asked before but I tried searching and didn't find anything. I got an offer to work at a research lab this summer and I'm really excited, but I'm also a bit nervous. I'm mainly doing things like labelling test tubes, cleaning dishes, etc. at first, but I was told that they would like to train me up and eventually let me work on my own project. My first day is this Monday and I was wondering if anyone had any advice/tips or wanted to share their experiences when starting out. Thanks a lot; I appreciate any tips I can get! :)
It's like starting any other job. Just be friendly, try and remember as much as you can so that they don't have to repeat things.

No different than starting at McDonalds really, don't be nervous.
 

MDperfection

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hello kaushik
be friendly, don't feel intimidated which will make you have awkward relationship with your PI or group members
Enjoy what you're doing
 

HIVdoc2b

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Coming from a staff scientist who has trained a multitude of undergrads:

  • If you don't know how to do something, ask! We'd rather answer a few questions than deal with mistakes that were made because you were cocky and assumed you knew how to do something, or because you were too chicken to ask. (But don't ask the same question more than about twice).
  • Read labels. If the recipe calls for Luria Broth base, for heavens sake don't use Luria Broth agar!
  • Pay attention to details. Sloppiness tells me that you don't really care.
  • If someone not your usual trainer asks you to do something (empty the biohaz waste, pour a gel, etc), do it - don't say "that's not my job."

Attitude is everying...

Don't forget to enjoy it.
 

beachblonde

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I'll second the advice regarding asking for help-please, please ask. I've seen students cause a lot of damage because they were too proud to ask for help.

Also, write stuff down! Well your instructor/trainer tells you how to do something, write it down. Write down everything, because I promise that you will think "oh that's easy" and forgot how to do it a week later. Get a lab manual and take notes, even if the stuff seems silly. After training students, I would much rather have them write it down and do it right than pretend they get it and mess up for weeks before I catch them.


If you're looking for a good book to help prep you, try At the Bench: A Laboratory Navigator by Kathy Barker. Your lab probably has a copy that you can borrow.
 

jsegalBSD

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i think the best advice is to read the publications coming out of the lab in the last 5 years, and investigate the work of the PI. the more you learn about their accomplishments in the lab, the better you will be able to contribute in the future. ask your supervisors about specific things in their papers. they will be flattered by this and possibly ask you to help do the things they arent looking forward to doing for the next project: making gels, buffers, plating cells, french press, aliquoting...
 

ejay286

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my first day on the job i thought i would be labeling vials and washing tools....well i ended up cutting off about 15 rat's heads on my first day. thank god i dont have a weak stomach
 

nontrdgsbuiucmd

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I'll second the advice regarding asking for help-please, please ask. I've seen students cause a lot of damage because they were too proud to ask for help.

Also, write stuff down! Well your instructor/trainer tells you how to do something, write it down. Write down everything, because I promise that you will think "oh that's easy" and forgot how to do it a week later. Get a lab manual and take notes, even if the stuff seems silly. After training students, I would much rather have them write it down and do it right than pretend they get it and mess up for weeks before I catch them.


If you're looking for a good book to help prep you, try At the Bench: A Laboratory Navigator by Kathy Barker. Your lab probably has a copy that you can borrow.
Definitely concur with writing things down, when I started at a med research lab, bringing a lab notebook was a very positive thing, the researcher assisting me/showing me the ropes made some sketches in my lab book the first day to explain a few concepts. I try to jot down notes every day about what I'm doing, and the steps involved.

Be patient, things often take a long time, and may not make sense at first; sounds like you're getting paid, and the number of hours you spend in a lab are valuable even if a few hours here or there seem wasted (I waited with a group of researchers for some time while trying to determine aperture/settings on a digital camera attached to a microscope, there's no benefit to seeming impatient or griping about it).

Bringing in food/candy (if this is possible, if there is break area) is often a great icebreaker, $4 worth of coffee cake goes a long way.
 

UVAbme2009

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When I began, I worked alongside a post-doc. I never did busy work, even my first day. I spent the first few months learning the techniques, but after that I could do practically anything on my own if I had the protocol.

The most important thing is to ask questions when you're uncertain or you want to know about something. The more you seem interested in something, the more likely you are to be allowed to work on something.
 
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Charles_Carmichael

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Thanks a LOT for all the advice, especially about taking a notebook to write down stuff in. I really appreciate it! I'm so excited for tomorrow! :)
 

ANNIE8

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Label your microfuge tubes correctly, switching up samples can ruin many hours of hard work.
 

BluePhoenix

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I agree with the above, write it ALL down in your lab notebook..because of course...whatever you don't write down...will be the one thing you need to know later on. And ask questions...not only does it help you minimize mistakes, it also make you seem interested (assuming it's not the same one over and over). Also, don't be afraid to ask why...often times you can learn a lot by asking why you do certain things if you're not sure or what various reagents do or are used for.

Bringing food is great! We lab rats love it...just make sure you NEVER bring it into the actual lab. Food and drinks DO NOT belong in lab. Some labs are more lax on the rules, but in general, unless they say it's cool, assume it's not.

Finally...make sure you give the lab a chance. Getting into the swing of a lab so you know what's going on and how to do things takes time. Don't expect to be running your own experiment right off the bat...it's great if you get to...but usually you build up to that. And usually the beginning is grunt work and you move on to more exciting experiments. Try to read some papers about what you're going to be working on (ask questions if you need to) because it always helps to understand what the project is all about.

Good luck!
 

Aynsl156

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Congrats on getting a lab job. Summer research is fun, and the PI will usually sit down with you first thing and try to get you acclimated. You'll probably be assigned to a post-doc or grad student who will train you, but don't feel like you can only ask questions of this one person. Lab hierarchy is more horizontal than anything, so everyone will be at least willing to show you where reagents and supplies live. Just don't ask people if they look especially busy. You can garner some good will by bringing food, but it's not necessary. Make sure you pay attention in safety training, and I definitely agree to bring a notebook. Some labs give their summer students a lab notebook (intellectual property of the lab), but most won't. A legal pad will do the job, and it's helpful to record protocols in there as well just in case you decide to continue doing research and need those skills again.
 

Quadratic

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Hi, I'm sorry if this has been asked before but I tried searching and didn't find anything. I got an offer to work at a research lab this summer and I'm really excited, but I'm also a bit nervous. I'm mainly doing things like labelling test tubes, cleaning dishes, etc. at first, but I was told that they would like to train me up and eventually let me work on my own project. My first day is this Monday and I was wondering if anyone had any advice/tips or wanted to share their experiences when starting out. Thanks a lot; I appreciate any tips I can get! :)
That's what they told you in order to get you to come aboard. That's not likely to happen (this is your first time, after all). Did you even talk to the researcher personally or was this a third party at the school that was just trying to hire people? I doubt you'd be working on your own project, or any project. If anything it's more of an episode of "Pimp my lab assistant."
 
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Charles_Carmichael

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That's what they told you in order to get you to come aboard. That's not likely to happen (this is your first time, after all). Did you even talk to the researcher personally or was this a third party at the school that was just trying to hire people? I doubt you'd be working on your own project, or any project. If anything it's more of an episode of "Pimp my lab assistant."
Hey Quadratic, I talked with the people at the lab directly. I visited the lab and the research associate showed me around the lab and introduced me to everyone there, etc. I talked a little bit to all the people working there and the main research person, but I mostly talked with the research associate. She said they will see how I do in the lab the first few months and if they see that I'm capable, they'd be willing to give me a project that I can work on my own.
 

Quadratic

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Hey Quadratic, I talked with the people at the lab directly. I visited the lab and the research associate showed me around the lab and introduced me to everyone there, etc. I talked a little bit to all the people working there and the main research person, but I mostly talked with the research associate. She said they will see how I do in the lab the first few months and if they see that I'm capable, they'd be willing to give me a project that I can work on my own.
Well, at least you heard it straight from the horse's mouth. I guess only time will tell. I've had friends that did the same as you though, and ended up just washing dishes and not contributing anything significant at all. Better luck to you though.
 

paranoid_eyes

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i agree-read publications and start formulating your own hypotheses. Oh, and really get to know the PI
 

bozz

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Most important thing to ask your PI: What are your plans with me?

Do not feel shy to ask this question. According to my advisor and many faculty members I have talked to, even if they start you off with cleaning glassware without much else, just quit. Even if you do "wash your dishes" well.. whatever that means, chances are, your PI just wants to have you around. Even if he says we'll see how it goes.

I had been through this personally. I was with a lab over the summer after my freshman year. All I did was clean glassware in an underground basement for the WHOLE summer essentially. I quit after the summer. My advisor was pissed off at me for even staying for a week.

Currently, I am working in a great lab. From Day 1, I started learning how to run gels/work with mammalian cells etc.. hands on work. I have an awesome "PhD grad student" to work with.

Also make sure you are "under" someone who knows how to speak English well. Several times, I had been under someone who simply was not proficient at English at all and I understood nothing. Most of the time whether you simply wash dishes or not depends on two things:

1) Whether you are "under" someone other than the PI (grad student for example). If you aren't, chances are, your PI will just make you do something "simple" b/c he won't want to train you/give instructions.

2) Grad student being proficient at English

Again, the above is just from my experiences alone.

(Another thing I have to mention is: Due to my visa status, I was not able to work for money. I had to "volunteer" my time. As a result, maybe some PIs might have not taken me as seriously since they didn't have a responsibility to pay me)
 

littlealex

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No matter how hard you try, you're going to eff up. No matter how much you know, they're going to have to retrain you.
Just go with the flow, take notes, don't make anyone teach you something twice.

Understand the research, write down all the solution formulas, learn where everything is put, learn how to operate the basic machinery.
Also learn what chemicals are dangerous in your lab. I always try to identify the top 5 things that will most likely kill me or slowly poison me to death in a lab.
 

186321

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Hi, I'm sorry if this has been asked before but I tried searching and didn't find anything. I got an offer to work at a research lab this summer and I'm really excited, but I'm also a bit nervous. I'm mainly doing things like labelling test tubes, cleaning dishes, etc. at first, but I was told that they would like to train me up and eventually let me work on my own project. My first day is this Monday and I was wondering if anyone had any advice/tips or wanted to share their experiences when starting out. Thanks a lot; I appreciate any tips I can get! :)
Welcome to hell. Just kidding, but seriously.

In my opinion your happiness will be solely determined by your PI/supervisor. Hopefully you'll luck out and get someone who is polite, intelligent, but most importantly has COMMON SENSE. I've met too many PIs who are geniuses in their fields but couldn't tie their own shoes if they had to. Lastly, don't let an aggressive PI boss you around and have you work harder/more than you should. Working 40+ hours a week is OK but if they are getting you up to 50+ then stand up for yourself.
 

Maxprime

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3 Simple Rules:

1) Never lie. If you screw up, be honest - you're not a Nobel Laureate. Nobody expects you to be perfect, but ALWAYS be honest.

2) Ask too many questions. I'm a graduate student, but I still ask someone before I adjust any piece of equipment I use (including microscopes). Some things in lab are more valuable or expensive than you would ever imagine - it's better to be annoying than stupid.

3) Respect those above you. The data you generate is their currency - it's how they get funding, promotions, and publications. If you don't want to count cells for 8 hours a day and will do a crappy job, tell someone. I'll gladly reassign an undergrad to something else if they really can't stand doing something. Write down EVERYTHING you do - you won't be in the lab a year from now, but people may still be using data you generate.