A new year means new resolutions and a chance to improve ourselves. All too often, however, these changes last only a few weeks before we slip back into old ways. Why not make 2015 different and make a change that sticks? These changes don’t have to be huge, and often it’s the small changes that have a big impact.

For those working in a lab, there are often the same resolutions that come up year after year that we just don’t manage to keep. Below we’ve highlighted some of the most common resolutions for lab-dwellers along with some helpful hints and tips to ensure you make a change that lasts!

Keep up to date with the literature

One thing that everyone I knew in the lab had as a New Year’s resolution was to make more time for reading papers. It’s easy when you are focused on your experiments to forget about keeping on top of the literature, but with advances happening fast you need to keep up to date in your field or you risk being left behind. But never fear, with journals all being online, there are lots of tools to help you keep up to date, such as those detailed in Useful Tips to Keep on Top of New Literature.

Sometimes the key to reading more papers is learning HOW to read them properly so you don’t waste time re-reading them again and again. How to Read a Scientific Paper walks you through a paper section by section so you can learn to read a paper more efficiently.

For some people reading faster means skipping large chunks and even jumping straight to the conclusions. But as Suzanne discusses in her article RTFP (Read the F*****g Paper), this is a dangerous habit. Instead, why not learn to read papers twice as fast without skipping the details?

Get Organized

Being more organized is one way to really boost your productivity and another common resolution for scientists. One of the difficulties with organization in a lab is often the space is shared by multiple people, meaning there has to be some co-operation when it comes to getting organized.

In How To Stay Organized in the Lab, Troy provides useful hints on how to calm the chaos that can easily occur in shared space. However, if the problem is a bit closer to home check out How to: Keep your data organized and 10 Tips For Organizing Your Lab Book for great advice for making sure your own organizational skills don’t let you down this year.

Improve Your Writing

It’s a fact of scientific life, no matter whether you love it or loathe it a career in science means you are going to have to write. In fact, writing papers and grants are fundamental to getting your research out there and understood (as well as ensuring you have money for the next experiment). Despite this necessity, many do not take the time to hone this vital skill.

This year set aside some time to improve your writing; Jode’s excellent series on Writing Your First (or next) Paper is a great place to start for those wanting to improve their paper-writing skills while 10 Tips on Writing a Research Poster provide great advice for producing an awesome poster.

Get Better Results

I was plagued with nightmares during my PhD, not of disastrous failures but with dreams of getting the perfect results, only to wake up and find it wasn’t real. When you’re desperately trying to get an experiment to work it may seem more like black magic than science, but the reality is that when things go wrong there is normally a logical explanation of why.

However, despite being pretty well educated many of us try to plow through these problems by endlessly repeating experiments, hoping that whatever the issue is our sheer determination and relentless repetition will overcome it. Unfortunately, this is not the case and such an attitude can lead to wasted time, wasted reagents, and a lot of frustration.

This year why not aim to be more methodical, and when problems arise take a pause to figure out what exactly went wrong – and fix it! Are you having problems with your cloning? We’ve got troubleshooting guides for mutagenesis and ligations that can have you creating colonies in no time. We’ve also got articles with helpful hints for PCR, immunohistochemistry, and RNA isolation. While these troubleshooting guides are fairly specific, the underlying principles of each can be applied to most situations.

Have you got a different lab-related New Year’s resolution? Share it with us in the comments below!

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