Does anyone have any tips for succesful labwork ?
I have one: avoid it
Nah, seriously though, the one thing they always told us was 'write down EVERYTHING as you do it' - including your reasoning on decisions and suchlike;
Use more space rather than less in your lab book, it makes things easier to manage.
Take some time to devise neat, compact results tables
Pursue your lab supervisors relentlessly for any documentation or other instruction you don't have and feel that you should. Do not do anything with a piece of equipment until you have a complete hardcopy of the manual that you've read cover to cover.
One thing that will help you a lot when it comes time to do the lab is having read the lab backwards, forwards and inside out before you even do it. Know what you need to do before you do it. Try not to stress out in the lab, and work quickly but carefully, do not take shortcuts.
'Labwork' is a loaded term. If you could clearify it somemore I might be able to give some advice.
Think before you act! When I worked in a lab, my adviser always told me to visualize exactly what I would do with my hands before I did it, i.e. to have an exact plan for any task I did with my hands.
Even then, I still broke a lot of stuff, and decided that labwork wasn't for me.
I agree. What kind of lab work? Chemistry? Physics? Electronics? Each would have a different approach, IMO.
Also, do you mean a lab CLASS or lab work as in RESEARCH? This would also make a big difference.
optics ...spectroscopy interferometry and lasers
Then the tips so far seem totally valid to me. If its a very short project (< 24 hours), I like to type myself a quick step by step plan on the computer before starting - a sort of reduced lab script, it keeps me on track and it's obviously written in a way that i'll understand it. Since all documents need to be written by someone, its inevitable that conflicts of understanding and presentation exist, make sure that you have guidelines arranged in a way you understand them before starting.
Also with any project its a very good idea to write down everything. Type if you want, but any thoughts or anything you have at any point are worth recording. I know with myself theres been plenty of times when I'll think of a good idea and just assume that its now so obviously I couldn't possibly forget it - but do before implimentation.
Take breaks in long lab sessions and keep your mind free of distraction, experimental work can be irritating enough on its own, I like to take a quick walk every hour or so just to run over things in my head.
Other than that, I think that with practice everyone has their own style of approach to lab-work, long or short term so start off with the methods your demonstrators are recommending then alter it when you feel confident.
Nothing specific on optics because I was never very good at optics experiments :uhh:
One thing that I'll add. If possible, work out what you *think* the answers and results will be ahead of time. If you are given the full procedure to study, then do whatever calculations, estimations, etc. that you can ahead of time, so when you are gathering the experimental data, you can start to see if the data is agreeing with your previous calculations. If the data appear wrong, then you have time to go back and check the experimental setup (and your calculations) to see where the problem might be.
It is much better to figure out a problem with your experiment while you are still doing the experiment, so that you can fix it and get good data, rather than being puzzled later on while doing the final experiment write-up, and not having the ability to figure out then what went wrong.
Walk yourself through the motions a few times with someone else there if possible, so you can have two sets of eyes looking for possible areas of mistakes.
Ask clearifying questions about techniques before you begin.
And most importantly: Remember, no one ever gets "good" data on the first try, or the second, or the third, or..... when it happens it will happen (especially in a biophysics lab).
I work with a Sum-Frequency Generation (SFG) Femtosecond Laser Setup, and it is extremely necessary to keep accurate records of experimental conditions such as current, power, polarization, etc. I have a B.S. in Chemistry, and transitioning from chemistry to physical chemistry (laser spectroscopy) has been difficult, but not impossible. I had to read a ton of manuals and re-teach myself the basics of optics.
I find myself spending hours in the laser room doing experiments because I didn't know what to do and had to do the experiment by trial and error (basically playing with mirrors, beam splitters, periscopes, delay stages, etc) until I was satisfied).
Keep maticulous records, including temperature and humidity of the room, because laser spectroscopy is sensitive to such conditions. I only ask my advisor for help when I have exhausted all efforts on my part. Advisors like to see you solve problems on your own.
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