7 Lab Tips to Take Your Research a Step Forward

Silvana Quiton (ESR1)

Hello readers, I’m Silvana ESR1. For most of us Nowelties, the first year of PhD has already come to an end. Last month, I started my first experience supervising a master thesis student, and I have to confess that as much as I am teaching him, he is teaching me much more.

This month of supervision has been very therapeutic in many ways. The experience of teaching what I know and explaining my experiments helps me realize all the things I’ve learnt so far. With my mentee, I’m sharing all the theoretical knowledge, but most importantly, I’m sharing all the tips and tricks of the everyday lab. Some of which can perhaps be useful for others out there. Here I summarize my experience in a practical guide in 7 do’s for a first-year PhD.

1. Be proud of your work

There will be times your experiments won’t go as planned, and there will be times everything will just flow perfectly. Both situations are still teaching you something. Don’t get me wrong though, things going well is not mere chance; it is a sweet reward of your hard work. Take the necessary time to reflect on your work and celebrate your wins. It’s definitely a good confidence boost to remember the work you’ve had done and what you had learnt.

Having confidence in yourself will help you face your next challenge and don’t be constrained by the fear of failure.

2. Learn to fail

Scientists deal with failure daily. Failure is an important part of learning. It’s ok to fail, but it’s better to learn how to fail. The more you fail, the closer you are to succeed. Here I would advice, fail quickly, meaning do not drown. My nowelties colleague (Michele) talked about how to see the silver lining of failure on his blog.

3. Write every single thing down

Write everything down, document everything, take pics if you find it helpful. Your lab journal will be your greatest ally when analysing your results and remembering your experiments on those jam-packed days. I write my lab journal in simple words, I add my thoughts and impressions. You don’t need to use scientific jargon, but it needs to be clear enough to recall what you did and why you did it.

4. Start simple

It is very tempting to try to do everything at once but start small, and as you get full control, go forwards. Working in the lab could get chaotic, so I advise my mentee to be mindful of each of the things he´s doing. You’ll get better results if you do all things adequately than rushing from one analytic to another. When doing scientific work, it is important to do things thoroughly, remember, “The devil is in the details”.

5. Take chance on your resources

Sometimes you won´t have all the resources you have at hand, so you’ll have to adapt and get creative to reach your goals. However, your most valuable resource will be time. Take your time to plan your days efficiently. Find out what routine works for you and stick to it. Everyone doing a PhD can conquer that time management is one of the most critical skills for your success.

6. Keep questioning your results

You’ll always have new information that can help you better understand what is going on. Use it to complete your view of your experiments. It is often helpful to discuss your results with your colleagues and listen to what they think of them. Sometimes you’ll get a new perspective of the matter. But most importantly, keep learning, do not settle.

7. Enjoy!

Enjoy the process. This is what I’m telling my mentee and myself daily. Time in the lab is flying. A year of our PhDs have already gone by so quickly! you might miss it if you do not stop for a moment and appreciate all that has taught you.

Take the time to remember why you started this journey and where you are heading. My own motivation? Loving what I do!

Image source: https://twitter.com/ErrantScience/status/827497858899275777/photo/1