8 tips for your first time in a laboratory - Back 2 School edition
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Starting high school or university after a long summer break can sometimes be nerve wrecking. Ticking off your checklist, remembering to buy all the textbooks and school supplies, and preparing your back-to-school outfit,… It is a lot!
But no worries, we are here to calm down those nerves and get you ready for your first days in the lab. Being in the laboratory will hopefully soon become one of your favourite school activities. Laboratory practicals provide an excellent hands-on opportunity to learn!
This 8 tips will keep your mind at ease and prepare you for your first time in the lab. Be ready to do science!
Tip 1: Be prepared
An obvious one, but crucial! You are obviously well aware of this since you are reading this post. Great first step and kudos for the enthusiasm.
You will probably be given a practical reader, explaining the experiments in detail, for the course you are doing. It will help you get through the practicals in the lab and follow along with the professors’ instructions. The first thing you can do before your first lab visit is to take a look at it and read the first chapters.
This way you will know the techniques that you will be using and familiarize yourself with the planned experiment. By reading the protocol your workflow will be more efficient when you are performing the experiment. Also, if something will be unclear you can prepare your questions for the professor in advance, making the whole learning process run even more smoothly.
Tip 2: Read and familiarize yourself with the laboratory rules
Even though the laboratory is exciting and fun, there are some safety rules that need to be followed as precautions, to avoid any dangers. We’ve covered the possible dangers in a previous blog post.
Usually, you always have to attend a laboratory safety lecture, whenever your course includes laboratory work, prior to starting. Even though some of the rules might seem silly and logical, you might be surprised how many times they are broken (we have all done it at some point). But be aware that these rules are there to protect you!
By reading or listening to laboratory safety rules and memorizing them you will know what to do and how to react in case of emergency.
Tip 3: Be aware of where the safety equipment is located
Related to the previous tip, but nonetheless should be mentioned. Whenever you enter a new place you familiarize yourself with the environment. The lab should not be any different. Go ahead and look around (it’s quite intriguing isn’t it?).
The professor should review safety equipment in the lab with you. The most common lab safety equipment includes fire extinguishers and fire blankets, which are used in case of a fire emergency. Then there are eye-washers and emergency showers, which are used in case of chemical contact with your eyes or skin. Most labs also have exhaust hoods for capturing chemical fumes and smoke.
Tip 4: Be careful with the equipment but don’t be afraid of using it
Equipment in the lab is really expensive and it can be a scary experience the first time using it. Especially when it is something you have never seen before.
Be cautious when handling the equipment but do not be afraid of using it. This is what courses are for, to teach you how to handle yourself and the equipment in the lab.
If you have a question on how something works, do not be afraid to ask questions. No one is expecting you to be a master the first time around. And it is always better to ask before, rather than later when something is broken.
Don’t worry you will get more confident every time you use it!
Tip 5: Memorize the equations and use the right measures
There are many equations that you will have to learn during your laboratory courses. But by far the most useful one, for dilutions and preparing buffers, is the following equation:
This equation is simple to memorize and it is usually the answer to your question: How much do I need to pipette? Basically, if you have three of the four components of the equation then you can use or rearrange this formula to calculate the unknown component.
Sometimes there are things you need to weigh or measure in different units. Make sure the units match before doing so. Working with varying units could lead to mistakes in the calculations and the experiment. You would be surprised that this is often the cause of the experimental error.
Tip 6: Take notes and observe
Tip number 5 will save you some time when preparing for a practical exam. It is a smart move to take notes whenever the professor is talking during the practicals.
That is the time when background knowledge and results explanations are given. There might be some answers to the exam questions in there and other useful practical tips, which you can review anytime.
This trick got me some extra points on many occasions, so don’t look past it!
Tip 7: Finish the lab report as soon as possible
After completing the practical experiments you have two things left to do. Clean up your working station and write a lab report. A lab report is how you explain what you did in your experiment, what you learned, and what the results meant.
Typically you will have a few days to hand in the report, however, talking from experience the best time to finishing your laboratory report is straight away. This is the time that the knowledge of the experiment and the steps of the experiment are still fresh.
If you are anything like me you will also feel better having one less thing on your to-do list.
Tip 8: Wear protective equipment and express yourself in a personalized The Lab Label lab coat
When you think about being in a lab you have a certain image in mind. That is because there is a general dress code in the lab that you should follow:
- never wear open-toed shoes
- no scarves or loose long sleeves
- no jewellery
- long hair tied back
- safety goggles
- laboratory coat!
Wearing the right kind of clothing in the laboratory helps keep you safe. However, the lab fashion does not have to be boring.
You can make your lab coat unique and spice it up by grabbing one of The Lab Label laboratory coats! This way your laboratory experience will be more fun and you can even express yourself by making your own design!
Now that you got through this post, you are prepared and ready to tackle the first day in the laboratory. But do not let the nerves get to you, laboratory work is fun and exciting!
And remember, there is no such thing as stupid questions!
Good luck and enjoy the laboratory experience!