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Advice for starting out in research

  1. Sep 16, 2012 #1
    Starting this next week, I will be involved with volunteering as an undergraduate student in a biomedical research facility. I will be helping out the postdoc around the lab on a project that he is currently working on and I will be primarily involved with helping out with basic tasks around the lab (making reagents, taking care of the mice in the lab, etc.) I have not done research before outside of the classroom and am nervous about what to expect, especially with making reagents. I don't much confidence when it comes to working in the lab as I had a few not so great moments in taking biology and O Chem lab last year.

    For anyone that's done research, I had a few questions, mostly about starting out and making reagents. If the lab knows you have not done research before, do they generally start out in showing you how to do different protocols? Second, for making reagents, do you generally follow a specific protocol on what is needed for that particular solution? Also for making reagents, if you need to adjust the procedure to make a specific amount that's different from what is given in the procedure, how do you best determine how much less of each solution to use to make the solution?

    Thanks to anyone that reads through this, it's very much appreciated as I'm really nervous about starting.
  2. jcsd
  3. Sep 16, 2012 #2
    Volunteering to do real research is a great way to learn experimental skills properly. You don't need to worry about not knowing what to do - they will pretty much expect you to know nothing. You are not just going to be unleashed in a lab to do whatever you want since this would be dangerous and counter-productive if you make a lot of mistakes. Usually, the postdoc would show you what to do. You would normally be doing something that would be used directly in the postdocs research so it is in their interests to show you how to do things properly. In my old lab, supervising undergrad students basically involves babysitting them for the first weeks or so. You'll gradually be given freedom once you've convinced people you know what you're doing. Its a great way to learn because you essentially have one-to-one tuition from an experienced researcher. The best thing you can do is ask lots of questions and make the most out of it. Get comfortable doing the basics and hopefully they will let you do something more interesting. In research (as with life) you have to make opportunities for yourself so if there is something that you don't understand/want to get more involved in, then ask around and make it happen.
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