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Terrible at doing labs

  1. Apr 19, 2012 #1
    Hello, In my chemistry and physics classes and I severely lacking. On the whole, I am good at the theoretical work in these classes, i.e. my tests scores are a lot above the average, however, when it comes to doing labs, I just can't for the life of me figure out whats going on. It seems like I am blindly following directions, not knowing what to expect, and every lab I am always frustrated just trying to get data. There are constantly things going wrong that ruin data.

    I was curious if anyone had any tips for how to do science labs proficiently. I mean, I let my C grade lab partners do the lab because they are better at it than I am
  2. jcsd
  3. Apr 21, 2012 #2
    I had a similar issue in lab. I would suggest spending extra time in lab if possible. Make sure you read up on the procedure before the lab and try to be comfortable with the materials and equipment you will be using. Plan not only for what you will do, but look at what you might expect to go wrong. Accounting for this is the real secret to success in lab.
  4. Apr 22, 2012 #3
    I used to be the same way. I found that I was too obsessed with the mathematics of Physics and I didn't realize that the essence of physics is experimentation. Physics IS a description of how nature works, and that must be accompanied with empirical tests. (Don't get me wrong, is also about the math, but the math means nothing without it ACCURATELY describing a phenomenon.)

    Eventually I started to take labs much more seriously and they became much more enlightening and exciting! The key is, when you are doing the lab, do not have the mentality of "I want to finish this" as MOST students do. Your mind should be, "How well does the theory describe actuality? Does physics work?"

    This is at least what I went though.
  5. Apr 22, 2012 #4


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    Some tips:

    1. Read the lab over before you go in. Not in the five minutes prior while you're in the hall waiting for the TA to unlock the door to the lab, but well before, when you have a clear mind and time to focus on the material.

    2. Learn about the propagation of experimental uncertainty. Know it cold. Most labs in physics - particularly at the first year level - involve measuring some set of parameters and then using them to find some kind of known or predicted value. Often students struggle the most, not with determining the value itself, but with what certainty they can associate with their measurement.

    3. If permitted, try to do as much of the lab as you can ahead of time, when there's no pressure on you. If you can't, while reading through the lab, take note of what values you'll be measuring, figure out how to best tabulate them.

    4. Sometimes, you can get a hint by working backwards. If the experiment is consistent with your theory, you can predict what values you should be measuring. That way, if you're off, you'll have a flag right away. (Remember, it's just a flag though).

    5. Pick yor lab partners wisely. It can be extremely frustrating when you're partnered with people who have different goals from you.

    6. Learn the marking scheme the TA will use. If only 5% of the mark is for your introduction and methods section, don't waste your time writing a novel.

    7. Always come back to the basics. May sure you understand what the purpose of each lab is. Sometimes it's not always about finding a particular value, but to demosntrate a particular approach to measurement. If you're not perfectly clear on this before you start making measurents, talk to your TA.

    8. Ask questions. Your TA is not paid to surf Facebook or work on reasearch while in the lab. (Although, do temper this advice with thinking your questions through first.)

    9. Be professional in how you conduct yourself. If you come into the lab late, you can often miss key instructions. Respect time lines. The TAs know who the last ones to finish the lab are.

    10. Be professional in how you write up your reports. A lab report is not an essay on English literature, but unclear presentation, poor grammar, incorrect spelling, and poor presentation of information - even if it is essentially correct - will frustrate your marker.
  6. Apr 22, 2012 #5
    Having lab partners is the worst thing to have when doing labs. You seem like the type of person who works well on his own rather than having to be paired with another person (I may be wrong as you didn't state whether you have lab partners or not). In the event that you are continually paired up with someone, ask the lab instructor whether you could work alone as you believe you need to go at a slower rate to understand what's going on.

    In my case, I hated working in a pair in lab, and when it came time to choose partners, I usually walked out and came back in 5 minutes later when people were paired up and working. Lab instructor caught on to my method and then just said I can work alone for the rest of the semester. I was surely happier working alone and, although I needed to take it a bit more slowly, I eventually got the hang of lab and began working more proficiently and better than the pairs.

    You just need to get comfortable with what you are doing, and make side notes (outside of a lab manual) of your plan of action and how step 1, 2, 3... relates to your theoretical work.
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