Everything I Ever Learned I Learned in Lab

I’ve been in Wirtz lab since the summer after my freshman year. It’s been a fun, enlightening, rewarding, and challenging experience, but I wouldn’t trade this experience for anything. Here are some of the (nontraditional) things I’ve learned in lab:

-Stand on the shoulders of giants- Ask questions. Not only will it make you understand and appreciate your work more, but it will also ensure that you’re doing your work in the most relevant and smartest way.  I know that some undergraduate questions have started research projects in my lab.

-Engaging presentations are important. 

-Make a plan before you start an experiment- There have been many times that I haven’t thought through an experiment and ended up spending extra time because I forgot a step. Making a plan (and preparing for future steps during down time) has allowed me to do more efficient and effective works.

-Be careful. 

Kate didn't wear her safety glasses. Now she has to drown her eyes in water.

-Be detail-oriented- At the beginning, I was sometimes so excited to see a new protocol that I wouldn’t write down all the details. This made going back (when I had to do the protocol all by myself) very difficult. I’ve learned to write all the details down – and encourage new undergrads that I’m teaching to do the same.

-Guys don’t understand feather earrings- These have caused quite a controversy. The graduate students in my lab are always puzzled by them- and one of them even asked me: “Why did you pick up some bird’s wings for your ears?”

the source of men's confusion

-Pick work that interests you- One of the greatest pieces of advice I’ve gotten in lab was if you like your job, you’ll start to be in this type of zone where you’re so focused that time flies quickly. If you’re passionate about your work, you’ll find that you can explain it better to people too.

-Journal articles are not as scary as you think- Coming in with little biology knowledge, searching for journal articles was terrifying. I then discovered here is this amazing thing called a review where they explain a current topic in research and give you papers to look up specifics. Plus, some of them are fun. 

Courtesy of Franz H. Messerli, M.D., New England Journal of Medicine

-Everyone makes mistakes- I remember my first few months in lab, I was so scared that I was going to break something or mess up an experiment. I always thought that I was the worst at lab because I messed up sometimes. The longer I’ve been in lab, the more I’ve learned that even the best researchers make mistakes. The best thing to do is reflect on these mistakes and think of ways to improve next time.

-Food makes everything better – People are in better moods when you give them free food and I’ve had some of my greatest ideas in lab at my small group meetings with required cookies.


Posted in Academics, Reflection, Research |

2 Responses to Everything I Ever Learned I Learned in Lab

  1. Henry Jekyll says:

    Please be careful of what you test on yourself. It doesn’t always work out well.

  2. Admissions_Laurin says:

    This is so cool, Kate! I love the t-shirt. :)