What is my most favorite task to do in the lab? Good question; it’s difficult to pick just one, so here are (quite) a few of my favorite things:
1. Working in a team
This is what makes research great: in teams, numerous projects can be completed more quickly than what a single person may be able to accomplish in the same amount of time. In every lab I’ve worked, it’s how we’ve built a friendly rapport together.
2. Collaborating with others
Labs combine forces to attack challenging research problems with an army of scientists! And on a more personal note, it opens the door for exciting future opportunities. Like when budgets begin to shrink, a collaborative lab may not have a position available now, but they may be able to point you in the direction of someone who does.
3. Making Media
Let’s begin our day by brewing a cup of coffee and end it by mixing up fresh DMEM and other common reagents for all my cells and yours. A traditional task, but an important one nonetheless to keep a consistent media supply available for happy, healthy cells.
4. Cell Culture
Cells grow lightning-fast! With an appropriate cell type, anyone can test, retest and refine experimental conditions to lay the foundation for successful projects in vivo.
5. Slide Preparation
A 100 piece puzzle for me to paste tissue slices onto microscope slides, right side up, flat, all lined up in correct anatomical order. I find it to be more art than science, but even with a steep learning curve, it is a relaxing change of pace after high-intensity experimentation.
6. Programming Macros
Computers record data in predictable formats. With Excel we can program a macro to analyze datasets in mere seconds, finishing with the creation of a pivottable that summarizes final results (our PI loves this).
7. Designing Experiments
Here’s where I decide my own fate. In addition to shaping the conditions of an experiment, are there weekends, holidays or break-of-dawn hours that I want to put on the schedule? Maybe just a few this round, but the mileage will vary.
Beginning with the simplest component and working toward the most complex, immersion into the inner workings of an assay, a piece of equipment, or tool helps to develop a huge appreciation for how stuff works. If it’s broke, try and fix it. I always learn something new.
9. Writing Bench Protocols
An exercise in writing “how-to” guides, BitesizeBio style. Bench methods need to be concise, easy-to-use and include the tips and tricks learned over years from trial and error. Now that’s a healthy challenge to ensure that knowledge is preserved throughout the lab’s existence.
10. Create Databases
Locating group data is a task when there is no central location in which it is stored. I create databases to solve this problem. One file, one location and I can find what we need every time.
11. Making Graphs
Science communication in its clearest form. A graph summarizes a soup of numerical data so anyone can review the plot, deduce trends and make comparisons among experimental groups.
12. Pilot studies
Today we’re attempting to solve a novel problem that no one else has attempted before. It’s exciting if this data gets included in a grant application, and then blossoms into a full-fledged lab project.
13. Finding new ways to do “old” things
The lab has run an assay the same way for decades, based upon handwritten methods. Can it be improved upon? Let’s review literature – and other labs’ methods – to see how it compares. Maybe we can make it more efficient by incorporating cutting-edge biotechnologies.
14. Distributing supplies to labmates
“Santa” brings joy to labmates up to 365 days a year – no, not socks and thermal underwear…smocks, tubes, tips and restriction enzymes!
15. Community Art
Individual experimentation shuffles our schedules so that the times we come together as a group are at lab meetings. So, a fun thing to do to brighten each other’s day in-between, is to doodle on the whiteboard. Sometimes it’s science, sometimes it’s goofy, but it always develops into a work of art that would make Michelangelo proud.
People go to conferences to get feedback on their work, to learn about recent findings, and to meet colleagues (both new and old). I advise not to concentrate only on your work, but also on on your goals. Here is my algorithm for attending conferences.
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