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Prized skills in Laboratory

  1. Dec 30, 2007 #1
    I ask because I will in a year be applying for internships doing lab based work in physics, hopefully.
    Now what can you tell me what are some valued skills in the lab?
    -How about expierence in numerical analysis software?

    My uni does what they call a summerfield session for physics majors->
    "Introduction to the design of engineering physics apparatus. Concentrated individual participation in the design of machined and fabricated system components, vacuum systems, optics, electronics and computer interfacing systems. Supplementary lectures on safety and laboratory techniques"

    Will this give me good lab prepatory expierence?

    Zap I am sure you have some good advice.

    What can I do to stick out?

    Thanks in advance.
  2. jcsd
  3. Dec 30, 2007 #2


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    It depends on the lab and the area of research. E.g. Biophysics is obviously very different from low temperature physics and require very different skills.
    A course will only give you a rough idea about what goes on in a lab, there simply won't be enough time to learn any "in-depth" skills; that takes many years.

    We are currently thinking of taking on a couple of interns and the plan is to let them design and build some measurement electronics (fairly simple stuff, but it takes time), write some Labview programs and maybe a few other things.

    Hence, in my lab "valued skills" for an intern would probably be knowing something about basic electronics, soldering and controlling instruments using Labview. Some basic knowledge about Autocad would also be a plus.
  4. Dec 30, 2007 #3


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    That sounds great!

    Experience with software, e.g. Labview (National Instruments) will certainly help, as well as any experience with software like Matlab, Mathematica, Mathcad, . . . .

    The description of design of engineering physics apparatus would indicate a very practical content.

    Certainly Zz and others can give great advice here.
  5. Dec 30, 2007 #4
    Thats good to know. What about soid works? I have great skll and expierience with that software.
    Thanks Astroc I will definalty look into those programs.
  6. Dec 30, 2007 #5
    You know one thing that makes a student stand so far out of the crowd they're practically floating above the rest?

    CLEANING UP AFTER YOURSELF. Better yet, clean areas up, regardless of whether you made the mess. Uni labs are disturbing places as often as not. Cleaning, organizing, and just being in general a good citizen of the space will do wonders for your recommendations.
  7. Dec 30, 2007 #6
    Should be common sense for everyone. Great adivce, thank you.
  8. Dec 30, 2007 #7
    Everyone missed the most obvious answer. Take your time, take your time, take your time and collect GOOD DATA.

    I dont care how clean your lab is, what program you wrote, etc.. if your data is bad because you did not take your time all the rest means nothing. The person who needs the data will be happy with the person that produces the best results.

    I remember we had a basic chemistry class where we had a jar of unkown substance that we had to find the molecular weight of through a series of experiments. I took my time, and did everything as exact as I could. I ended up guessing the correct molecular weight to within 0.0746% using very basic techniques with a LOT of care. It was a really good learning experince on how simple experiments can produce VERY accurate results when done with care.
    Last edited: Dec 30, 2007
  9. Dec 30, 2007 #8
    My prof said that the best skill you can have in a lab is good soldering skills.

    I laughed.

    He was serious.

  10. Dec 31, 2007 #9
    Lol. Thanks Poop Loops, I will be picking up soldering skills this 2nd semester.
    Thank you.
  11. Dec 31, 2007 #10


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    Some of the universal skills/qualities I like to see in interns, regardless of the project I'm assigning them, the duration of their internship, or their background are:

    Enthusiasm for the work (I need to see that they really want to be there and aren't just doing it because it'll be another item to list on their resume)

    Attention to detail (this gets at Cyrus' point...it doesn't matter if you can wow everyone with your understanding of the concepts of the project if you keep forgetting steps during the experiment and screwing it up, or worse, break the equipment so nobody else can use it either)

    Knowing how to ask questions (this is similar to attention to detail...while troubleshooting abilities are good skills too, I don't expect an undergrad to have the knowledge to troubleshoot well enough yet, and if there are problems/questions/concerns, I want to know about them, whether it's a question about why a certain step is included in a protocol or why the data isn't fitting with what we discussed about predicted results...could be because we were wrong about the hypothesis or could be that the equipment isn't working right).

    Focus on the project (If I ask someone to sit and watch liquid dripping into a tube for an hour, it's because I want to be sure the system is running properly the entire time, not because I'm handing out busy work...when I leave the room, the student/intern/whoever needs to keep on task, not pace the lab, text their friends, surf online...unless I tell them they can do that and just check every 5 min or such...not all labwork is glamorous or fun, it can be tedious and boring, but still needs to be done).

    Willingness to roll your sleeves up and do the job until it's done (lab work is not always a 9 to 5 job...in fact, it rarely is...though sometimes it can be a 9 PM to 5 AM job. If something you're doing won't be completed until 7 or 8 or 9 PM, or has to be done on the weekend, someone who is willing to stick it through to the end and put in that extra time to see the project through is much more valuable than the one who either whines about the extra hours or who just picks up and leaves in the middle of the project because their work day is done).

    Beyond that, my personal expectations of interns when they walk in the door on the first day is that they know nothing more than what any other student who has taken the prerequisite courses should know. If they do have some prior experience, that's great, but the whole point of an internship is to be a learning experience, so I expect to have to teach them everything I need them to do. If someone wants you to have more experience than that, then they should specify it in their position description.
  12. Dec 31, 2007 #11


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    Good laboratory skills and practices, and soldering go under the generic title "Best Practices," which should be self-evident, or otherwise exceedingly obvious. Apparently they are not?

    Of course, take good data. Of course, clean up after oneself, put things back from where one retrieved them. Be methodical. Soldering or more generally, connecting wires and constructing circuits, or using instrumentation in the lab are as important as collecting data and analyzing it.
  13. Dec 31, 2007 #12
    Thanks Moonbear and Astronuc for the valuble information.
  14. Dec 31, 2007 #13


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    After my first summer of working in a lab as an intern, the best attribute I can think of is to be willing to learn! Don't go in thinking you know everything about the subject or experimental methods. Even if you do happen to know LabVIEW, how to solder, etc., you have to remember that the internship is supposed to be a learning experience for you. Hence, those people you are working with will be much more experienced in a lab than you. You will make mistakes, and they know that! So, remember to ask questions and know where your knowledge ends and another person's begins.

    Really, as Moonbear pointed out, your attitude is everything. Remember to be hard working, willing to learn, and don't worry about making mistakes. Mistakes are going to be inevitable!:smile:

    Good Luck with your internship!
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