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Other Lab report struggles

  1. Mar 5, 2016 #1
    Hi all,
    I'm a newcomer to these forums and this is my first post!
    I'm currently a freshman physics major, and I was hoping that I could get a little guidance from here. I'm well into my second semester and I've been enjoying most of my maths and physics classes. However, I've identified that a major source of stress for me comes from my physics laboratory work.

    How it works here is that we do a new experiment every fortnight and we have to produce a 6 page lab report (along with a graded handwritten lab notebook entry) which is due two weeks after the experiment. The experiments are rather challenging as we often end up doing experiments which involve concepts that we have not yet learnt formally in our lecture courses (e.g. like doing an experiment involving thin-film interference of microwaves before even touching on interference in our optics course). Hence, a lot of time is spent on reading up on the theory before/after doing the experiment and it is not uncommon for some of us (me included) to take data without understanding what is really happening.

    The biggest stumbling block for me in all of this is when I actually have to sit down and write the report. I've written about 6 of them thus far over the course of this academic year (3 more to go before the semester is up) and they still give me a lot of anxiety and stress. I often have to put aside my other course work just to write the lab reports and I often have to think very hard before I begin writing each section. I guess what I'm really trying to say is that, as much as I enjoy learning physics and math, I still find writing lengthy lab reports unpleasant.

    Now that I've explained my situation, I'll list my questions here..
    1. Has this also been your experience for undergraduate physics lab? If so, how did you cope with it?
    2. Does one get better at writing such documents/reports as the years go by? Because it's been nearly a year and I feel equally as stressed out as I was when I was writing my first lab report. I sort of aspire to work as a researcher/academic one day and I know that writing journal papers and the like would be a big part of that. Hence, my experience with writing lab reports have caused me to question whether I am really cut out for that stuff.

    Hope this thread is clear! I appreciate any advice or insights that you can give me :D
     
  2. jcsd
  3. Mar 5, 2016 #2

    blue_leaf77

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    In my case, according to your description, yes I experienced (almost) exactly what you did there. The first year in an undergrad physics in my country is always the roughest part of your bachelor life. In my case, the lab report was even due one week after the experiment. Some of my friends even had to skip some classes or give up some hours of night sleep just to finish this 5 chapter handwritten report (it's five chapter in my bachelor, must be written with pen, so it's got to have more pages than yours). And I made it.
    How did I cope with it?
    Just endure it. It's not like you can get exemption from doing this weekly routine after all.
    Rather than "get better", I prefer to say "get used to".
    Don't worry. Publication level research is different from freshmen lab practicum. You don't start and finish taking data in one go in a few hours, there are many things that you have to prepare and give thoughts to, not to mention the possibility that your planned approach might fail in the first try. In fact, researches aimed for publication may take up to one year until the awaited result comes out. But when the goal of your research is achieved and the thing that you scrutinize gives no-nonsense result, you will usually feel accomplished. This gives you energy and motivation to write the report in a form of paper.
     
  4. Mar 5, 2016 #3

    Student100

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    You're already reading the theory beforehand, which is good. Why don't you also write the theory for the lab report before you do it, as you're reading it. I'm assuming this is probably the meat of your 6 page reports.

    Then you'd just need to analyze the data recorded and discuss, to finish the report.
     
  5. Mar 5, 2016 #4

    Choppy

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    One thing that I find really helps can be not just reading the lab report before hand, but as Student100 suggested, to start writing it up ahead of time. Plan out the report - cover the theory, but also think about what you are going to measure, how you are going to tabulate the results, what are you going to graph, what calculations are you going to perform, figure out how to propagate your uncertainties, etc. That way, when you get into the lab, you know specifically what information you're going to need and it's just a matter of taking it and filling it in. Doing this is a lot of work up front, but it pays dividends overall because it helps you to avoid missing crucial steps during the lab.

    And most students get better at lab reports with time. That's the point. Pay attention to feedback your TAs give you. Talk to them and ask for tips on how to improve and any key points to look out for. Sometimes a five minute conversation with a TA can save an hour of time in the lab or in the write up afterwards.
     
  6. Mar 5, 2016 #5

    kith

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    Also for me, the first lab courses were the hardest because I perceived the time for preparing the experiments and for writing the lab reports to be really short. This got better with every course.

    What helped me was to talk with fellow students. For solving problems as well as for seeing that they felt the same.
     
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