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[Rant] I am so tired of lab reports

  1. Nov 15, 2012 #1
    I am so tired of writing lab reports. It's so ridiculously tedious and pointless. I've spent so much time doing things to fit into their stupid conventions. It's all monkey work - a monkey can do it, it requires too much time, and you don't learn anything.

    And of course, I'm stuck with two others that have no idea what they're doing, so I end up doing all the work. And the school's computer BSOD'd and deleted my work even after I saved.

    Is this just a first year thing? Does this eventually stop?
    Last edited: Nov 15, 2012
  2. jcsd
  3. Nov 15, 2012 #2


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    No, library computers crash even for graduate students.
  4. Nov 15, 2012 #3

    Haha, I appreciate the joke to lighten up the mood.
  5. Nov 15, 2012 #4


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    Labs are good practice in technical writing, which is a valuable skill no matter what you decide to do for a career. "Stupid conventions" will exist in a professional environment as well, so it's a good time to start getting used to it. :smile:

    If you only do what is required for a good grade, then I agree the material can be boring. Often it is up to you to make things more interesting. Consider trying to come up with ways to improve or correct the lab procedure. This often requires a solid understanding of the underlying concepts and can lead to interesting discussions with faculty or other students.

    Have you talked to your lab instructor about your partners? If not, don't expect things to change for the better. Take ownership of your education.

    Why did you rely on a school computer for your only save point? a thumb drive is cheap and can help you recover from disasters. I also don't understand how your situation is possible if you had saved your file to a valid location on the computer. Are you claiming that the computer navigated to your user directory, found the file you were working on, and then deleted it before or after the blue screen? :confused:
  6. Nov 15, 2012 #5
    This was a painful lesson to learn for me. After losing all your data due to a computer crash, you automatically start to be more careful. Right now, I save all important data two or three times on a different medium: I mail the data to my inbox, I put the data on a USB stick and I save it on the computer. "They" are not going to fool me again.
  7. Nov 15, 2012 #6
    Dropbox is a good alternative that works for me, although the size is limited to a few Gb in the free version, you can work on your key files anywhere. No extra steps like attaching and mailing, if you just save your work in the dropbox, which is just a folder on your drive and it's online. I guess there are more simple storage sites like that
  8. Nov 15, 2012 #7
    Apparently, every time the computer reboots, it restores itself to an specific state as if it was no one had ever used the computer previously. I tried to use undelete software to recover it, but apparently, it didn't give me admin privileges. D:<

    The good news it that I had an older version uploaded to dropbox, but it still felt terrible and I totally lost all motivation.
  9. Nov 15, 2012 #8
    On the plus side you have moral support while you do all the work it could be worse :)
  10. Nov 15, 2012 #9
    Writing lab reports is the most awesome thing you do as a physics undergrad. If it was up to me I would have only done lab courses for 3 years. Learn to love them.
  11. Nov 15, 2012 #10


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    Better stat taking it seriously, because it is the single most important thing you will learn in college. If you are unable to communicate effectively, nothing else you do will matter.
  12. Nov 15, 2012 #11


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    Absolutely agree, it doen't matter much what you can do if you cannot communicate it to others.

    This is why so much junk, presented well, gets the attention.
  13. Nov 15, 2012 #12


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    My bold might be something YOU should work on. Other than that, ... these folks know what they're talking about.

  14. Nov 15, 2012 #13
    All I remember is having to re-write an uncertainty analysis for a paper 4 times because the teacher didn't think I was write as per the 'accepted format', even though what I was saying was perfectly clear.

    OP, I totally agree with you on this.

    (I don't disagree, however, with the fact that technical writing is an incredibly important skill to have)
  15. Nov 15, 2012 #14


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    Funny thing about technical writing - I thought, since I graduated from an accredited university with a BS in Physics, that I knew how to do it.

    Then I worked with an actual Technical Writer. This guy didn't have a scientific background - I think he studied History or English or something like that. My department (3 or 4 scientists/engineers) would work for *days* on a report, just distill it down to its essence. Or so we thought.

    We'd give it to him, he would reduce it to 1/3 its original size - and not lose any information! And it would just sparkle!

    I have a lot of respect for the talents of a fine technical writer.
  16. Nov 15, 2012 #15

    Ben Niehoff

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    I did my undergrad in computer engineering, and am doing grad school in physics. Most students I've met in both fields are terrible communicators, and postdocs are not any better. Professors vary; on average, they tend to be better communicators (probably due to greater experience, or simply that only better communicators will succeed in such positions), but often have problems as well.

    The most common mistake among professors is failing to understand your audience, and thereby misinterpreting questions. Among students (at all levels), I see quite often a complete inability to express ideas and explain them. I've lost track of the number of times I've asked someone to explain an idea to me (because I genuinely want to understand what they are talking about), and all they can do is repeat the same words, possibly in a different order, and gesticulate. These are the students who put no effort into writing lab reports (or similar projects).

    The problem boils down to a) lack of practice, and b) failing to understand the audience (as usual). Even when the audience is on a similar level of expertise as yourself (say, discussions among grad students and postdocs), it doesn't mean that all parties think in the same way, have the same technical vocabulary, or approach problems from the same direction. It is important in discussions not just to broadcast your own ideas, but to ferret out these differences and express ideas in a way they can be understood.

    A common mistake is to assume that "more understandable" = "more detail". In fact, more detail can actually confuse issues, and obscure the big picture ideas. For example, do you want a professor to write out every step of algebra on the board, or to describe, in broad strokes, how a calculation proceeds? I certainly prefer the latter, and I fall asleep during the former. When I read a paper, I first skim through to find the main points; I don't even look at the vast majority of the formulas until I have a general idea what was done and what conclusions were drawn.

    Anyway, I've rambled on for a bit, so how does this relate to lab reports? I always hated writing lab reports, but that's because they were handwritten and I couldn't stand the carbon paper in the lab notebooks. And I agree, it feels silly explaining how an experiment works to the very guy who wrote up the experiment in the first place. It turns the cardinal rule of writing ("consider the audience") on its head. Consider, then, that what you must communicate are not the mere facts of how the experiment works (since your audience knows that already), but you must communicate that you understand the experiment. Therefore focus on demonstrating that you know why the experiment is done the way it is, rather than merely showing you can memorize a recipe.
  17. Nov 15, 2012 #16
    When I took my intermediate physics lab, particularly the second semester, I learned more from writing the lab reports than I would have learned in a week of lectures. You want to talk about too much time? Try writing a 10 page lab report (not including graphs) for an experiment whose main topics were never covered in any lecture.

    Maybe you're just that good that the topics are easy for you for now. But don't expect it to stay that way. At some point, you'll encounter a topic that you don't realize you don't understand until you try to explain it.
  18. Nov 16, 2012 #17
    To the OP: (from my experience) you'll never like to write a lab report for some lab course. However you'll learn how to arrange and present data. Later only when you'll do your own research you'll learn to enjoy it.
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