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Any former lab assistants?

  1. Aug 25, 2009 #1
    Hello everyone, I was just offered a job in a biology lab at Penn State (they do a lot with noninfectious bacteria and things like that, among many other things) washing glassware and hopefully moving up to preparing solutions and that type of thing in the future. Although I'm a chem major, I want to get involved in a lab early on (I'm a freshman, been here less than a week) and see how things work out. I also have a budding interest in biochemistry, so this should be quite interesting. Obviously this is a great opportunity, and I'm very excited to start. I was just wondering who else started out in this kind of position, and what you gained from it, where you're working now, etc.
  2. jcsd
  3. Aug 25, 2009 #2
    Do it. It might sound mundane, but you'll be getting valuable lab skills both practically, and on paper.
  4. Aug 25, 2009 #3


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    I highly recommend it, pzona. I worked my way through college with lab jobs. When I graduated, I had far more experience, contacts, and letters of recommendation than most of my fellow students.
  5. Sep 30, 2009 #4
    Update time. I've been working in the lab about a month now, and soon I'm going to be given more responsibilities, which are more along the lines of what I wanted to do in the first place. It's a biology lab, so I'll be preparing buffer solutions and gels for culture analysis. Obviously this is a great opportunity, and I'm really looking forward to helping out with the chemical side of biology, but I have a question regarding the reality of how things like this can help me in the future. If I wanted to join a research group (chemistry, not biology) within the next two years or so, will this specific aspect of my job really help me at all? Will professors actually consider what I did in the bio lab (solution prep, etc.), or will they just be looking at the fact I worked in a lab? Specifically, I'm wondering whether this will allow me to start off with solution preparation and whatnot in the research groups, or if I'll be stuck starting off washing the glassware all over again. I imagine it depends on the professor, but if anyone could share some related experiences I'd appreciate it.
  6. Sep 30, 2009 #5


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    Solution-prep is a mundane job, but it is a responsible job and it is important that it be done properly. When I worked in a pulp mill, we had lots of good technicians who could perform tests, etc, but the job of making solutions for the labs always fell to us chemists. The efficiency and production costs of the mill hinged in great part on the accuracy of the tests done by the technicians, and though they could follow simple cook-book test procedures quite well, it was up to the chemists to make up their test solutions accurately and consistently and monitor them and replenish them if they started "drifting". If you perform your job well, and get good recommendations regarding your performance (both are important) that will be a leg-up when you look for your next position with a research group.

    Accuracy and consistency is important to large commercial ventures because when you're producing lots of valuable product daily (especially in a commodity-market) very small economies add up quickly. Accuracy and consistency are going to be very important to a research group, too, but for different reasons. The people leading the research will want to have confidence in the people doing what you might now consider a mundane job, not only to maximize the accuracy of their research, but to ensure that other groups with similar standards can replicate their work.

    BTW, washing glassware is REALLY boring (Voice of Experience) but if it's done in a hap-hazard manner, it can result in contamination, inconsistent test results, etc, so it's a pretty important job in its own right. We chemists always washed our own glassware prior to making up standard solutions for the process labs for that reason.

    Good luck!
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