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What is the First Day in a University Lab Like?

timothy posted more than 5 years ago | from the ymmv-and-certainly-will dept.

Education 200

the_kanzure writes "I'm going to start at a university lab a few days after my high school graduation ceremony. The lab is an eclectic blend of computer science, evolutionary engineering and molecular biology, essentially it's research/development and — best of all — the research is worth something to me and my other pet projects. What I do know of science, tech and research has been gleaned from the internet. The open access research repositories (arxiv, PLoS, etc.) have been a life-saver. But showing up to get real, hard experience is not the same as those late hours into the night spent debugging software. In person, you can't just call up a favorite bash script to open up a few hundred tabs to do some quick research on feasability and past research ... how is this supposed to work — does anybody really get stuff done this way? So I've been wondering how Slashdotters have handled transitioning from learning in front of a screen and a good net connection, to actually showing up and getting stuff done. What's a first day like in a lab? Stories? What's the etiquette? Informal? In programing circles, you can always submit a patch and alternatives, but does this hold here? Is the professor still generally considered the PHB and the lowly undergrads are his minions to carry out his bidding?"

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Expect non-stop ass paddling (5, Funny)

Reality Master 201 (578873) | more than 5 years ago | (#23136964)

Expect non-stop ass paddling and beer bongs. Make sure to bring a swimsuit, as there are frequent wet t-shirt contests as well.

Your mileage may vary, however, as I work at an Ivy League institution.

Re:Expect non-stop ass paddling (1, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#23137168)

I think that's just Dartmouth.

Re:Expect non-stop ass paddling (1)

TerranFury (726743) | more than 5 years ago | (#23137212)

Y'know, there's even a documentary [youtube.com] on the subject...

Re:Expect non-stop ass paddling (5, Insightful)

Burstwave (520213) | more than 5 years ago | (#23137176)

Right on the money. Your experience in the lab will be a combination of what you make of it (25%) and the quality of your lab mates (75%). To be a successful volunteer/student, pretend that you are going to be a student chef. It takes many years of experience to be a really good scientist, and you aren't going to learn even a handful of the tricks that professionals use over your summer. All you need is to have good hands, get along with your lab partners, and have lots of patience. There is a lot of hurry up and wait sorts of things that can be frustrating for someone new to the game. Ask questions, be curious, but be humble. Be enthusiatic but back off with the questions if you sense you are annoying someone. Do not attempt to thrill us with your genius; learn from those who are competent, and once you get good, you can THEN innovate and develop your own techniques. But not before then. We've seen far too many students who think they are too smart to be bothered with mundane techniques, and never get a single experiment to work. Above all, have fun.

Beer? Nope. (2, Informative)

parlyboy (603457) | more than 5 years ago | (#23137196)

From my experience in Ivy League labs, it's all about the lab ethanol supplies.

Just make sure to drink only the 98% or 99% pure ethanol, without any denaturing contaminants. And bring plenty of mixers, 'cause that stuff is wicked strong.

Parent is right about the ass-paddling and wet t-shirt contests, though.

Re:Expect non-stop ass paddling (0, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#23137548)

Well, us poor folk in the community colleges cook meth to make ends meet and get our kicks by rickrolling the freshmen. I cry every night.

Re:Expect non-stop ass paddling (4, Insightful)

jellomizer (103300) | more than 5 years ago | (#23137586)

The first day will probably be boring. Showing you where the stuff is any safety concerns you may do a simple experiment that you already did in high school. Or just a Hello World type of Application. The thing about colleges and university that freshmen believe is what their high school teachers say that things will be so much more difficult then in high school They Scare you with things like 100 page readings and 6 hours a day of home work, which is true but you normally have classes spread out threw the day and you may have a class every week or 3 times a week. Not like the every day stuff in high school. It makes it possible to get that amount of work done for a class possible. And have more time to hang out and make friends then you ever did in high school. You could dedicate yourself near 100% academics but that would be a waist it is the only time in your life where you have the most freedom do what you want without major repercussions (To an extent).
On the other side you need to take you academic work seriously, this is really important the first few years, The most common mistake I see from smart people who fail out of College is that when they take the intro classes they seem really easy so they let them slide then they realize at the end of the year they failed because they didn't take the classes seriously.
When I started college in my CS degree I knew how to program in 6 or 7 languages at the time C being one of them. So taking C++ was a piece of cake. There were other students in the same boat I was in knew the same stuff. I took the intro classes seriously they took it as a joke and had to take the class over again. Because the intros classes teaches more then just the topic, but the style that you need to work on to complete college. If the stuff is easy use the extra time to take the extra step.
It is really a balance that you need to learn and figure out what your real mental schedule is. Mine was waking up at 5:00am and do the work and be done by 11am. Others pulled all nighters work from 11pm and get one at 5:00am. Others took the practical approach of doing a little bit each day, while some went to the other extreme did the entire work the day it was due to get it out of the queue.

Re:Expect non-stop ass paddling (4, Funny)

DemingBuiltMyHotRod (836463) | more than 6 years ago | (#23137708)

"You could dedicate yourself near 100% academics but that would be a waist..."

On the other hand, going to a couple of classes every once in a while is recommended as a mind is a terrible thing to waist.

phdcomics (5, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#23136966)

www.phdcomics.com

Re:phdcomics (1)

Unfocused (723787) | more than 5 years ago | (#23137266)

Cheers for that link - I'd read one of the books I found one day, but never thought to look online for it.

Re:phdcomics (1)

BarneyRubble (180091) | more than 5 years ago | (#23137286)

It's my life in cartoon form.

Re:phdcomics (2, Insightful)

j1m+5n0w (749199) | more than 5 years ago | (#23137436)

Agreed. The strips may seem like they must surely be an exaggeration, but for the most part they aren't.

Eclectic? (1)

EmbeddedJanitor (597831) | more than 5 years ago | (#23136972)

With a vocabulary like that you should consider an English major.

Re:Eclectic? (4, Insightful)

mpoulton (689851) | more than 5 years ago | (#23137056)

With a vocabulary like that you should consider an English major.
Not if he "gleams" his knowledge instead of gleaning it. Your average English major not only knows that one, they can explain the etymology of it.

Re:Eclectic? (2, Funny)

theeddie55 (982783) | more than 5 years ago | (#23137104)

perhaps he can gleam knowledge from the internet, though it's a sign he might want to turn down that monitor brightness a little.

Re:Eclectic? (2, Informative)

starwed (735423) | more than 5 years ago | (#23137126)

You... don't know many English majors, do you? Certainly not average, incoming freshmen English majors.

Re:Eclectic? (1)

Gryle (933382) | more than 5 years ago | (#23137362)

I'd like to meet these English majors. Most English majors I've met just went with the major that had the lightest course load.

Re:Eclectic? (1)

Karem Lore (649920) | more than 5 years ago | (#23137062)

Erm, maybe you should use a dictionary before you make comments like this: http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/eclectic%20 [reference.com]

Specifically:

2. made up of what is selected from different sources.
3. not following any one system, as of philosophy, medicine, etc., but selecting and using what are considered the best elements of all systems.

Karem

Re:Eclectic? (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#23137074)

With a vocabulary like that you should consider an English major.
English majors aren't worth considering; most are whiny fat girls. Go for the kinesiology majors, instead.

Re:Eclectic? (1)

Chris Burkhardt (613953) | more than 5 years ago | (#23137096)

Except I don't think "gleamed" means what s/he thinks it means.

Two Words... (3, Funny)

barfy (256323) | more than 5 years ago | (#23136980)

Real Genius,

It is on sale this week for like 5 bucks at fry's...

LIVE IT!

Re:Two Words... (1)

Dr. Zim (21278) | more than 5 years ago | (#23137622)

Yeah, but "Can you drive a 6-inch spike through a board with your penis?"

Broad question, but, (4, Insightful)

Raindance (680694) | more than 5 years ago | (#23136988)

Keep an open mind as to how you'll be put to use. Lab work is not always glamorous.

Build cred by being competent and getting stuff done. Try to find someone competent who can get you up to speed and answer your questions. Ask lots of questions.

Once you have some cred, if you have ideas on how to do things better, bring them up in a respectful manner. Professors worth their salt value initiative.

Huge YMMVs. Any idea of what working in a lab will be like will probably last 30 seconds once you get there.

Be excited, smart, and ready to get things done, and good things will happen. If they don't, find another lab. Seriously.

it depends on your subject (2, Insightful)

thermian (1267986) | more than 5 years ago | (#23137334)

As a computer science undergrad I really enjoyed my lab time, it was great way to socialise as well as work. Most of the time there wasn't much pressure.

As a post grad though I found that the lab, which I shared with six other people, was a distraction. Within a few months I'd changed to working from my lodgings over ssh. That way I got the resources I needed from my lab, but the peace and quiet I needed to get things done.

Labs can be great, but unless you can be certain of being undisturbed, they can be quite hard places to innovate.

I did my best programming work from home, and my best thinking whilst walking alongside our local river.

Re:Broad question, but, (3, Interesting)

Gryle (933382) | more than 5 years ago | (#23137342)

"Try to find someone competent who can get you up to speed and answer your questions. Ask lots of questions."

I agree emphatically. I learned more about organic chemistry just by working as a lab assistant than I ever did in my organic chemistry lectures, simply by virtue of assisting an extremely bright and competent grad student. After he realized that I was working in the lab because I liked chemistry rather than just for the paycheck, he took time to instruct me and fill in the knowledge gaps that I hadn't picked up in the lectures.

In short, ask questions, keep your ears open, and people more knowledgeable than you will most of the time be happy to educated you.

tea tea and more tea (3, Informative)

VirtBlue (1233488) | more than 5 years ago | (#23136990)

uni labs are great, lots of tea and lots of not doing much. At least in physics labs in england that is.

Re:tea tea and more tea (1)

Midnight Thunder (17205) | more than 5 years ago | (#23137230)

uni labs are great, lots of tea and lots of not doing much. At least in physics labs in england that is.

Just make sure its Earl Grey. Remember you have an image to keep ;)

First day (5, Funny)

Dunbal (464142) | more than 5 years ago | (#23137000)

You're going to die.

Re:First day (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#23137098)

I was going to point out: if you are greeted by a tall, pale gentleman dressed entirely in black, and there's a DeLorean parked in the middle of the lab, turn around and leave immediately.

Re:First day (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#23137226)

Aren't we all.

you start out with... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#23137006)

putting your goggles on

My experiece (5, Insightful)

diewlasing (1126425) | more than 5 years ago | (#23137012)

I haven't worked in university labs but I have worked in labs affiliated with them. I suspect there's no real difference. You're probably going to have to put up with safety training which usually is a joke that drains a couple hours of your life. Then if you're lucky you'll get a computer which IT might take its sweet time to set up for you. But in the mean time I highly recommend you go around and introduce yourself to the people there. They are the ones that will be teaching you the most and can be very helpful, just try not to be too shy. Get acquainted with the people, equipment and where the best places to eat near there are located.

academa != the real world (1)

Ethanol-fueled (1125189) | more than 5 years ago | (#23137018)

You're gonna have to come out of the basement for this one, and the surprises will only become ruder and ruder from then on :)

God bless America!

my advice (2, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#23137028)

www.phdcomics.com contains all you need to know.

Dont be afraid of being proactive. Academic types will assume you know what you are doing and that you are working when really you could be drowning. Ask them questions.

I also suggest bringing a jacket. Labs can be chilly.

Good luck.

university is a breeze.. (1)

kris.montpetit (1265946) | more than 5 years ago | (#23137030)

Unless you end up getting involved in some crazy ass frat, university as a rule is easy and a lot more relaxed than highschool. The rule of thumb is that in your classroom you are considered an adult so most profs will treat you like one. There are always the crazy few, but if enough students have a problem you can always complain to the dean, and the university will take your opinion into consideration as a reasonable human being rather than a smelly delinquent teen.

The flipside is you have to work your ass off compared to highschool..Just in a more relaxed, learning before discipline manner.

Hm... (4, Insightful)

imsabbel (611519) | more than 5 years ago | (#23137038)

My first real "day" at a "lab" was a beamtime at a synchrotron. So thats hardly representative.

If you dont know _exactly_ what you want to know (and search for corresponding review papers), arxiv & co are worse than wikipedia for a basic knowledge background. You can very easily run into missconceptions, glorified pet theories, or just get lost in (for the big picture) unimportant details.

About professors: I cannot speak for the US, but over here, the professor has better thinks to do than playing tyrrant in the lab. In fact, many will hardly ever be there. They have to spend their time for teaching, and getting money to finance their (and that also usually means _your_) research.

Etiquette can be drastically different. I am in physics, and in one other chair of the institute i was back then, attentance at 8:00 was required, and people had to do their quarterly reports, ect.
While where i was, you just had to do your stuff (even if that means comming at 1pm and leaving late at the evening, ect). Tone was usually very informal. Just remember: For you its your Great First Day in the Lab. For the others, its just work/doing what is done every day. So you will just experience a normal work enviroment (well, a gernerally more relaxed one than in the industry, but still), with all the variations that this can include.

Stupid question time (3, Interesting)

nickname29 (1240104) | more than 5 years ago | (#23137068)

Stupid question time (I'm not from USA).

How does it work that you go to a lab directly after high school? Are you going to study while you work in the lab? Or is it a permanent type of work?

With shiploads of luck I may be studying postgrad in the USA next year... (It seems that the USA has to most amazing university system in the world).

I was just there myself. (1)

moteyalpha (1228680) | more than 5 years ago | (#23137072)

It is fun to see how ideas can become real. On top of that , my knowledge of computers put me way ahead of everybody else, as a lot of what I did in genetics was computationally intensive. I was in graduate courses, but I have had undergrad biochemistry recently and it is a very laid back and fun if you enjoy learning in the first place. Sounds like you will enjoy it. (keep your lab books clean) The tools that are available now for biochemistry and molecular biology are really interesting.

Well, as a first bit of advice... (1)

uhlume (597871) | more than 5 years ago | (#23137094)

...learn the difference between 'gleaned' and 'gleamed'.

Re:Well, as a first bit of advice... (2, Informative)

timothy (36799) | more than 5 years ago | (#23137262)

Mea culpa for not spotting that and fixing before. My weak excuse, but real: higher-res screen than I've ever used before, and tighter pixels.

For the rest of the day, I've bumped up the font size a bit.

timothy

It's... interesting (5, Interesting)

Metasquares (555685) | more than 5 years ago | (#23137102)

First of all, realize you're starting out at the bottom of the food chain [phdcomics.com] , which means you're probably going to get all of the grunt work that no one else wants to do.

The agenda of a research lab typically revolves around its director(s). Everyone will be working on their own individual projects (all of which have been detailed in the grant the faculty member was awarded 5 years previously), but you can always approach someone who is working on something similar to you for help, should you require it. Most will probably be glad to help you. The environment is less formal and more close-knit than that in the corporate world.

Most time spent in the lab is rather dull. The exception to this is the month of January, because that's when conference paper deadlines tend to occur. Think of it as a punctuated equilibrium. If you know that the professor wants to submit a paper on one of the projects you're working on, start preparing a paper early, before he even mentions the conference, because if he's anything like mine, he won't mention the conference until two days before the deadline.

Don't expect fair apportion of credit, adherence to some glowing paragon of scientific method, or even basic integrity to abound. Most beliefs that outsiders hold about academia are false. In general, I'd advise going into the process with a healthy dose of cynicism.

Oh, and everything in PhD Comics is true.

Re:It's... interesting (1)

turing_m (1030530) | more than 5 years ago | (#23137624)

"Don't expect fair apportion of credit, adherence to some glowing paragon of scientific method, or even basic integrity to abound. Most beliefs that outsiders hold about academia are false. In general, I'd advise going into the process with a healthy dose of cynicism."

Oh yes. Before anything, please read:

http://philip.greenspun.com/careers/ [greenspun.com]

It will explain everything you need to know.

Re:It's... interesting (1)

thegrassyknowl (762218) | more than 6 years ago | (#23137716)

That's hardly fair. In the lab where I was working the work was apportioned fairly. Everyone starts out at the bottom. Unlike in the commercial world they don't waste money sending you off on expensive training courses. You're expected to be learning as you go.

You'll pick up some shit work. Ask questions. Make sure you're doing it the way they want. Keep a couple of pet projects on the side to keep you busy when there is no "real" work to be done.

In many ways it's a lot like the real world. Demonstrate that you're good at what you do and people will treat you with respect. Soon you'll find you're the "expert" and people are asking questions about your field of expertise.

Another thing; a lot of work in a research lab is creditable towards a masters or Ph.D. Consider enrolling in one of these in the field you're working and keep it as your pet project. You'll be able to draw on those around you for wisdom, knowledge and advice and it should be a breeze so long as your supervisor is willing to make sure that you get it done.

Basic college lab expectations (2, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#23137108)

Being an undergrad fresh from high school, you won't be doing the professor's bidding. You won't even see your professor at lab. You will have a TA (teaching assistant), a grad student who handles the undergrad labs part time. The lab assignments will give practical experience to the material that will be covered in class. Notice I say "will be covered". That's because there isn't enough time in the semester to wait until you've covered things in class and then start experimenting later on. Often times you will get basic background info and a formula here or there, then you'll get to work. Then at some point, you'll study it in class.

My experiences with undergraduate CS labs weren't anything special. I would show up, get the assignment, listen to any info the TA had, and do a little bit of coding. If I wasn't making much progress, I'd leave and do the assignment at home later by telnetting into the university's servers using PICO.

As for engineering labs, they may provide you supplies or have you buy your own. While you're generally scheduled to be there for 3-4 hours, you might get done in an hour, or you might stay later. In any case, you finish all your work and record all your data there, as you won't have access to all that expensive equipment later when other groups are doing that same lab experiment themselves. You type up your reports at home, print them out, and hand them in the next week.

Don't get expectations built-up over first year labs. It's not until your senior project that you actually start doing your professor's bidding. You agree on a project, work with others in industry, and schedule lab time for your own uses however you see fit.

Re:Basic college lab expectations (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#23137186)

It's pretty clear the poster isn't talking about that kind of "lab."

Not much difference (1)

sugarmotor (621907) | more than 5 years ago | (#23137112)

I wouldn't expect too much of a difference to an industry job, except
  • lower pay,
  • being more in new territory,
  • less importance for ease-of-use / eye-candy, and
  • no QA team.

In particular someone is going to have a problem, they will ask you to work on it, and probably point you to some pre-existing code for you to understand.

Of course, industry would have more excuses to use Microsoft software, so with a University job, if they use Microsoft stuff that is a red-light, "something's not quite right here".

Stephan

Re:Not much difference (1)

xrayspx (13127) | more than 5 years ago | (#23137174)

no QA team.

What do you think those little white things in all the cages are for? Lunch? They're there to A the Q of the lab's product, right?

jfb2252 (5, Informative)

jfb2252 (1172123) | more than 5 years ago | (#23137120)

The first day will likely be spent in paperwork and safety briefings. One of the key things you should be told is "bio-safety level". Depending on location and age (over 18 or not) you may be restricted as to the level of organisms you can deal with. ----- Most important trait: Ask questions. Ask dumb questions. Ask questions even if you feel embarrassed not knowing the answer. You don't want to hurt yourself or a colleague by guessing. Nor does your employer want you to screw up an experiment by guessing, but that's secondary to safety.

Re:jfb2252 (2, Funny)

techno-vampire (666512) | more than 5 years ago | (#23137278)

Depending on location and age (over 18 or not) you may be restricted as to the level of organisms you can deal with.


For some strange reason, I first read this as revering to the level of orgasms you could deal with. The scary ting is, in context it made just as much sense as what you actually wrote.

Re:jfb2252 (1)

TerranFury (726743) | more than 5 years ago | (#23137412)

safety briefings

What are those?

I got, "so, here's the laser."


(Now I'm in a different lab where there is nothing more dangerous than a few small robots which present a minor tripping hazard.)

The most important thing to learn .... (3, Insightful)

taniwha (70410) | more than 5 years ago | (#23137136)

is that communication is really important here - talk to people - listen more - remember that the most important communication happens in unstructured places - coffee breaks, having a beer, waiting for meetings to start etc etc - if you aren't hanging out with the other people you're working with you wont get the really creative group thing you're there to do working

Re:The most important thing to learn .... (1)

Jacer (574383) | more than 5 years ago | (#23137288)

Ignore this. Mix acid and bases. Lots of them.

Re:The most important thing to learn .... (1)

taniwha (70410) | more than 5 years ago | (#23137312)

yeah, do that too - but wait 'till the boss has gone home

Re:The most important thing to learn .... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#23137490)

this is important

you will likely drop out of academia if you're an unsociable troll like me

Some Thoughts (5, Interesting)

raaum (152451) | more than 5 years ago | (#23137146)

Every lab has its own distinct culture, some of which comes from the discipline, some of which comes from the PI (Principal Investigator), and some of which comes from the other people in the lab. I've worked in several academic labs and the culture in each was startlingly different. I'm starting my own lab now, and I imagine it will turn out different from any in my prior experience!

That said, I'll offer some general advice.

1. Unfortunately, there will probably no one whose job it is to set you up. And there are a thousand and one little details that you need to learn. Where is the photocopier? What do I do when the printer runs out of toner? Where do I order this reagent? Where happens when the biohazard is full? And so on. _Politely_ ask the lowest person on the totem pole until you get an answer.

2. There usually is not an official hierarchy, but the unofficial hierarchy generally runs along the lines of PI -> Postdocs -> Graduate Students -> Research Assistants -> Undergraduates -> Others, modified by time of residence and area of expertise.

3. Everyone in academia likes to be asked to offer their opinion. Even if you think you know the answer, you will often learn something by asking a question or two.

4. Nobody likes it when the new guy is a know-it-all. Even if you do actually know it all, wait a little while before letting everyone else know :)

5. Have fun and relax. No one expects you to solve all their research problems in your first week.

6. Also, a lot of academic research time (especially in the type of lab it seems you're going to) is "in front of a screen and a good net connection," albeit with access to a lot more peer-reviewed literature than you've probably had access to in the past.

Re:Some Thoughts (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#23137314)

_Politely_ ask the lowest person on the totem pole until you get an answer.

That's not going to work too well, considering that as a summer intern fresh out of high school, he'll be the lowest person on the totem pole.

Re:Some Thoughts (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#23137702)

Dude ... as a "a summer intern fresh out of high school" he's the dirt into which the frickin' totem pole is planted.

Re:Some Thoughts (3, Insightful)

Angry Toad (314562) | more than 5 years ago | (#23137618)

2. There usually is not an official hierarchy, but the unofficial hierarchy generally runs along the lines of PI -> Postdocs -> Graduate Students -> Research Assistants -> Undergraduates -> Others, modified by time of residence and area of expertise.

Very much modified by time! God help you if you treat the 25-year Research Assistant who runs the lab as "lower" than some Johnny-come-lately postdoc. You will be a marked man.

Have Fun Doing Minipreps (1, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#23137154)

The PI will be nice to you and you'll have a good time, but don't expect to be the intellectual driving force for a project. You'll get assigned to a grad student or post doc and end up doing all of the menial molecular biology tasks they have to do on a daily basic like mini-preps, restriction digest, and cloning. You'll probably get to do a PCR reaction or two

My experience (1)

sou11ess (942999) | more than 5 years ago | (#23137158)

I have worked in a couple of experimental physics labs, and on my first days I was given a big pile of reading material. The professor also picked out a small project for me to work on. Then I asked the grad students lots of questions because the professors were not available much. They are very busy.

How research works very much depends on both your field and your particular group. Ask the grad students whenever you are unsure of what to do.

The environment is informal. My hours were never set for me.

Undergrads are low on the totem pole, and their projects typically are not very important ones for the first couple of months.

Re:My experience (0, Troll)

pyite (140350) | more than 5 years ago | (#23137500)

Then I asked the grad students lots of questions because the professors were not available much. They are very busy.

Here's where I'll disagree. Yes, professors are not available much. No, they're not very busy. Professors with tenure have very easy lives. They're professors for a reason. They could go make more money in industry if they're half decent, but they choose not to because staying at a university affords them the flexibility of not showing up on a daily basis and working on what they want when they want. So yea, they're hard to find, but not necessarily because they're huddled away doing tons of work. I didn't fully appreciate this contrast until I started working on Wall St. Only then did I fully understand what "busy" means.

Re:My experience (1)

sou11ess (942999) | more than 6 years ago | (#23137858)

I think we have both made the mistake of overgeneralizing. I have worked in three labs. Two as an undergraduate and now one as a graduate student. Some professors are very busy and some of them are not.

Two out of my three professors were very busy. This was not an illusion. One of them always had his office door open. My office was across the hall. I knew what he was doing.

My current professor is super busy. He is not a professor because he wants to be lazy. Our field is very competitive, and he works hard to get our lab funding and keep it at the top of the field. Just because a professor isn't fiddling on the machines or being a lab rat doesn't mean they aren't busy doing work for the benefit of the project.

I am aware not all professors are like my current one, but generalizing that all professors are lazy is a very incorrect statement.

Re:My experience (1)

timmarhy (659436) | more than 5 years ago | (#23137620)

"Then I asked the grad students lots of questions because the professors were not available much. They are very busy."

i guess that's why they are professors, they have the ability to fool people like you into thinking they are busy and not playing mini golf in their office.

Based on my experience... (5, Insightful)

kylben (1008989) | more than 5 years ago | (#23137160)

...here's how it'll be:

There will be a set of formal rules, some of which are never followed and others the violation of which will get you fired instanter. You may or may not be told which are which - and certainly not told all of the distinctions. There will be an informal set of rules that you won't ever be told about but will have to discover on your own or face the consequences. These will include everything from standards of break-room refrigerator etiquette to which buttons you don't dare ever push (both literal and figurative buttons).

There will be several types of people there. There will be the ass kisser who is always sucking up to the bosses - and who may in fact be your boss. There will be the stickler for rules, and there will be those who don't pay any attention to the rules but still get a lot of work done. 20% of the people there will be highly competent and professional (for certain values of "professional"), and about 80% who are bumbling morons that make you wonder how they keep their jobs. There will be one guy who everybody looks to for guidance, decisions, and ideas, and who will almost definitely not have any formal authority. There will be some who you become fast friends with almost immediately, and some who will hate you on sight. There will be a guy who loves any opportunity to help you out, another who will help you out, but only as an excuse to rub your face in what you don't know, and one who you'd better not approach with any question that he thinks is beneath him (i.e. one he can't answer). One or more of these qualities may be present in the same individual.

There will be cliques and power structures that you will not be told about, yet you will be expected to find your place in them, possibly including taking sides. Choosing wrong could affect your entire career, but will at least substantially affect your success at that particular workplace. You will be expected to exercise more authority than you actually have, but no more than the unwritten rules allow you. You will have to discover that upper limit without crossing it by enough to have serious consequences.

You will be expected to put in extra effort, and perhaps extra time above what is supposedly expected, but will be looked down upon, and possibly resented, if you give too much. You will be expected to do what the boss actually wants, regardless of what he says he wants. You will be expected to do what the rest of your team wants, and expected to figure out what that is. The expectations of your boss and those of your co-workers will not always be compatible, but you are expected to meet both. You will be responsible for following policies which are counter to the purpose of the job, and which may even contradict each other. That will not be an allowable excuse for not getting the job done.

Your continued employment will be subject to seemingly arbitrary decisions of the boss and/or your co-workers. These decisions will not be based solely on your performance or compliance to policies and rules, but those will be the stated reason for your termination should that ever occur. Your promotions and salary will be subject to the same constraints.

The good news is that (most) everybody else already knows all this, accommodations will be made (within limits), and it's possible to successfully negotiate this and actually get real work done.

And, no, I've never worked in a lab.

Molecular BiologyViewpoint (1)

00Sovereign (106393) | more than 5 years ago | (#23137204)

I've got a Ph.D. in Molecular Biology and am currently a post-doctoral research associate in a molecular/cell biology lab. Although I can't speak for the computer / biology interface, here's some things that I've learned from a wet lab. I also have a student starting in a few weeks, so I'll give you the same advice that I gave him. Here goes: 1. It's called research for a reason - you do the same stuff over and over again until you get it to work. And even then, sometimes it doesn't work. And no one can explain it. 2. Keep a good notebook. You never know when the smallest detail may be the cause of a problem (See #1). Someone who comes later may have to try to reproduce your results. Sometimes this person is you. 3. There are as many PI (principal investigator) types as there are flavors of Jelly Belly candies. Some examples would be the demi-god (You, nor any of your lab mates, have ever seen them except on your first day), the helicopter (They hover over your every move and plan everything for you), the slacker (They have a foosball table in their office, and they schedule weekly tournaments), and the workaholic (They spend 100 hours a week in lab, why don't you?). Once you identify your PI's type, there are various ways to handle them. In general, do what your lab mates do and you'll be fine. 4. Have fun. You're getting payed to screw around with things. And no one expects everything that you do to work the first time. How awesome is that? The only better job is TV weatherman. Hope this helps.

How it works in my lab. (1)

selil (774924) | more than 5 years ago | (#23137210)

My under-grads are involved heavily in my research. That doesn't mean they get to run off and do whatever they want. I bought the toys and toiled a long time to build a substantial lab. I'm not selfish but my research comes first. Once they prove they have a clue by succeeding at different objectives they are encouraged to set up projects and work on them. We do a lot of cyber-warfare, network centric warfare experiments so some of the tools we play with could cause havoc. A big part of working in any lab is learning what research really is, and what is going to be expected within the discipline. Like reporting out research activities to journals and such. The way the original question is posed is as if the new under graduate student already knows all there is to know and want to do their research. Doing a comprehensive literature review, creating or choosing a methodology that is appropriate, and then finally gathering data is an art. It takes time to learn.

laboratory experience (2, Informative)

cashman73 (855518) | more than 5 years ago | (#23137222)

First of all, I think it's excellent that you're going to work in a laboratory early on, as an undergraduate (I am assuming that you're not just going to work in a university lab with a high school diploma, and that you plan to take courses at the school you're going to work at). If I had to do things over again, I certainly would have done more research at the undergraduate level -- you learn a heck of a lot more there than in the classroom alone, not to mention that you make a lot of important connections with faculty and staff. While you're there, make sure you take advantage of every opportunity to get to know people -- don't just show up for work, do what's asked of you, and leave at 5 pm every day. Ask questions, talk to people, take advantage of opportunities to present your research (poster presentations, oral talks at conferences) as much as you can. If you do this while an undergrad, graduate school will be a zillion times easier.

Take good notes, keep a good, organized laboratory notebook. Become very familiar with the instruments and/or software that you will be using. If you know how to use this well, and you become well known as an expert at a particular experiment/procedure, professors will love you for it, and you'll be a valuable resource to them later on (they may even ask you to come back a year or two later, if you're available, and pay you to do a particular experiment or train someone how to do what you've done).

Don't expect to work in one lab too long. You'll probably end up working in 1-3 different laboratories as an undergraduate, move on to a different one (or different school) for graduate school, maybe another lab for a PhD, and another one for a post-doc. That's the typical route -- expect it. There's not too much advancement in laboratory work without some type of graduate school, unless you want to end up maintaining equipment or working in IT or something. But if you start undergraduate research as a freshman in college, there's no reason why you shouldn't have a PhD in 7-8 years, easily.

A lot of your coworkers will not be American. A good number will be from India, and more from China. Don't let this be a reason you avoid them. The US has some of the top research universities in the world, and we usually get the cream of the crop in terms of foreign students and researchers (even some of the smaller, less well known American schools can be well known and well respected overseas). Their English may not be all that good, but most of them do know their shit, and can be quite helpful. And most of them do want to learn more English and become better at it, so talking with them will help them out as well as you.

Anyway, good luck to you. I'm not sure where you're going to be, but if you're going to be here [pitt.edu] , I might run into you,... Cheers!

The best of times... (1)

oo7tushar (311912) | more than 5 years ago | (#23137224)

I've worked at several labs in programming circles so I'll give you all I know.

First off, the quality of code that comes out of Universities is generally of poor quality. The research that is done at these labs is interesting and is generally used to write some paper or advance some research so time isn't wasted on doing anything except getting things running.

Yes, some people (very few people) do write good code but for the most part I would not consider the code practices used at a lab as how you should always write your code.

Most labs have a prof that runs it and quite a few masters students. You'll find the uptight masters student and the way laid back University student (a lot of these folks) and in general you'll find it very relaxed. Do not take it relaxed though as the prof likes good workers.

Depending on your experience you might just be an IT guy to start with and then will move forward from there. Perhaps you'll support the students but in the end you probably won't write much code. You'll have tons of time to do your own thing though.

Molecular Biology (1)

Chicken_Kickers (1062164) | more than 5 years ago | (#23137232)

I can't comment on your CS labs as I am a bio science grad student but for the molecular biology labs, expect a lot of frustations. Molecular biology is an unforgiving mistress. Assuming that you will take "wet labs", you will be dealing with volumes of 0.1 - 10 micro liters and setups such as the PCR and cloning reactions that are more art than science. I have had PCR setups that suddenly decide to go on strike for no discernible reason, even though they worked well before. Only after pledging my soul to Chaos Undivided would the PCR work again. Expect to be hunched over in front of your laminar flow cabinet for hours on end while trying to keep focused on what you are doing. One mistake in pipetting and you're back to square one. Regarding the Professors, it depends on where you are studying and the individual professors themselves. However good or bad your professors will be, you are now expected to have the initiative to look for information yourself. If you will share your lab with grad students, there is a chance that you will be ignored by them or treated as an annoyance. ALWAYS ask first before using any reagents or machines in the lab and NEVER take someone's things, favourite pipettes, favourite work bench etc. It always pays to keep yourself in the grad student's good books as they will be a great help to you, even more than your professors. Finally, treat the lab assistants as you would treat a teacher back at school. Although they are usually the lowest ranking staff members, they have a wealth of experience and knowledge that you can access if you are friendly with them.

Stuff that matters! (1, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#23137248)

The question boils down to this:

"What's my first day doing X going to be like?"

Is this "Stuff that matters" or chatty-Cathy gossip hour?

What will be posted tomorrow? "What will my first kiss with a girl be like?" But, of course, we all know there won't be a single honest answer here because the question involves "them".

Re:Stuff that matters! (-1, Troll)

Tatsh (893946) | more than 5 years ago | (#23137310)

Yeah, I completely agree. This is the stupidest ask I have ever seen on Slashdot. How entirely immature. I hope he fails college and drops out, because he's an idiot for coming on Slashdot and asking "What is my first day of lab going to be like?"

You are completely right in saying this does not belong.

But I guess I will answer the question. YOU WILL FIND OUT WHEN YOU GET THERE, MORON!

Re:Stuff that matters! (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#23137462)

You're a dick...

student or tech? (2, Interesting)

sh()gun (249305) | more than 5 years ago | (#23137250)

First of all, your post doesn't really say whether you are entering this lab as a tech or a student. I assume a student because no one would hire a tech out of high school when they can get a undergrad for free (who has taken classes and actually knows something).

You are not going to be expected to find your own ass being fresh out of high school. If you are competent and work hard, you will be noticed and it will be to your benefit. I have had collegues who have gotten lots of recomendations, nominations for fellowships, ect by doing good work right out of the box.

Lab is usually chill. Some PI's like to run it like a family, some like a gulag. Keep laced up until you get the feel, then you will know when you can BS with your labmates and when you have to pull a 14 hour each day on a weekend to get something done (usually applies to grads, nobody trusts undergrads with real work).

I have had some monster PI's and some who I owe my career too. You are young and early enough in your academic career to switch if they guy is crazy (one of mine made the techs cry EVERY DAY, we went through a tech every two weeks.)

Your labmates and the demiPI's (post docs, grad students, assistant profs) are the ones you will learn most of the ropes and info from. They don't expect you to have it wired on your first or fiftith day, but make sure you don't alienate or piss them off cuz they are spending time away from their work to help the nOOB. Most help and info is handed out with a smile so don't be afraid to ask, it's better that pretending to know and fcuking up.

Join a frat, club, whatever. Meet people in whatever way you like the most. Don't listen to haters who say this is bad, that is bad, the whole point of freekin college is to learn, think, and find stuff out for yourself. (yes, you can be a uber nerd and be in a frat, it will teach you some social skills and you will have crazy experiences (good ones) that you can never get anywhere else. Just be choosy, frats are like jobs, schools, friends, bosses: some are cool, some are assholes).

Finally, ask to see if you can head up a project or experiment (after you get a little more salty) with the hope of publishing. This will be your ticket to the choise grad schools, fellowships and funding, women (ok, not women -> see clubs, frat, ect).

Have fun and meet people (and try not to subsist on junk food, the fresh 15 is no joke)

YMMV (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#23137292)

Your mileage will vary -- a lot.

As others have mentioned your very first day in the lab will likely be occupied by banal administrivia. (Safety lectures, wandering around to various offices to get forms signed, etc.), but after that ...

It all depends heavily on your advisor. Some are dictatorial, heavy-handed micromanagers. Some are laid back, hands off, "see you at your thesis defense" types. Some want to be treated with fear and reverence, like some exhaulted guru. Others want to be treated like your drinking buddy. There's a whole range in between as well. To some extent, the attitude of the guy at the top will set the tone, and the people underneath will follow, although often there will be coworkers in the lab which have a different attitude. Note that as an Undergraduate, you probably won't be working directly under the big man - you'll likely be assigned to a Grad student or Post-doc who'll be the person who is directly responsible for what your day is like. To start with they'll probably have a simple project which they want you to complete, although depending on the amount of competence and independence you show (and the character of the lab), you may be able to branch out and explore what you fancy. Theoretically, Grad students and Post-docs are training to be independent researchers, so they should have a fair amount of autonomy, although in some labs the boss holds tighter reigns than others. Undergrads are usually viewed as errand-boys, doing odd jobs for a more senior student, but the good ones can usually wrangle an independent project.

So while I can't say specifically what your time will be like, I can give general impressions. First, it's not going to be as bad as you think. Academic labs are notoriously laid back and forgiving, especially for people just starting out (remember, it's a university - the point is to teach people). Also, most Grad students and Post-docs aren't all that different from Undergraduates - they may have graduated, but they have stayed sheltered from "The Real World". Others have mentioned www.phdcomics.com, and, although slightly exaggerated, it hits close to the mark.

I'm slightly confused at your insinuations that a university lab doesn't have computers and the internet - in my experience, we're on the internet constantly, and if there isn't a computer at your desk or bench, there's a shared one 20 ft away. And (again, depending on the lab) there's little restriction on what you do with it ... you can read /. instead of working, or even watch a illegal Chinese video stream of a soccer game. If you want to do work, you'll still get the open access repositories, and since you're on campus, probably some for-pay ones too. Literature searches are the bread-and-butter of the sciences - that you have experience doing them probably puts you ahead of 75% of your classmates.

So, relax. On your first day err on the side of being polite and deferential, but still demonstrate your ability to work independently, and your enthusiasm for the research. After a week or so, you'll get a feel for the lab and what's expected of you.

(Oh, and a common book suggested is "At The Bench", by Kathy Barker, from Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory Press - I didn't like it much myself, but others seem to swear by it.)

Embrace the negative results... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#23137302)

Generally speaking in four months do not expect to finish your project as laid out at the get go. The objectives will change, and most of your 'usable' data will arrive in the last two weeks. In most cases summer projects contain lofty goals that are more fact finding missions to see if the research should be further pursued without tying up lab resources.

That being said, it is a lot of fun. My best advice to you is to READ and keep up with the current literature. Also be respective of the graduate students working towards their degrees. Summer is essential to them and nothing worse is to be tripping over a summer student.

Chosse your professor wisely... (2, Interesting)

Roger Wilcox (776904) | more than 5 years ago | (#23137304)

I spent several years in a university biology lab. I can't speak firsthand about a tech lab, but from my associations with others I have gathered that the following similarity holds true for nearly all university research environments:

The single largest factor determining your experience will be your professor. The specific attitudes and personalities of professors and the methods by which they run their labs varies quite a lot. The only thing you can really count on is that the prof will be the overlord. The undergrads, the grads, the post-docs, and the paid laboratory employees all have their fates tied to the whims of the prof. You may be allowed time to work on your own projects, but you can expect to spend most of your time working on HIS projects.

Some advice from the voice of experience:

Make certain before you begin that you truly like the professor and are truly interested in his specific area of research. Otherwise you will be in for a long, miserable, and possibly fruitless semester. If you have problems with either your prof or the research that you think may remain unresolved, don't hesitate to look into other programs with other profs! I know more than one student who has unsuccessfully attempted to tough through a program that didn't suit him. One wasted semester is better than four or five wasted semesters.

More misc tips. (#6 is particularly *crucial*) (2, Insightful)

Cordath (581672) | more than 5 years ago | (#23137326)

1. Take an interest in what other people are doing. First of all, most people love to talk about what they're doing. (provided you aren't asking at a bad time) Second, what everyone is doing may actually fit together and be motivated towards a common goal. Understanding that goal and how other people are working towards it can help you understand and motivate your own work. 2. Some labs will have extracurricular activities. Show up. Once you have some experience with the group, consider organizing extracurricular activities yourself, even if its just a trip to the bar. 3. Everything takes longer than you think it will. A lot longer. Try not to get frustrated. 4. If you think you are going to need parts that have to be ordered, work your ass off until they're in the mail. Then, while you're waiting for them to arrive, you can catch up on your other work. 5. There are going to be times when you need equipment that others are using. Don't sweat it. If they know you need it, they'll try to free it up for you. It might take a while though. Likewise, try to free up equipment other people need. 6. Don't panic.

Add acid to water ... (2, Funny)

j-min (1011011) | more than 5 years ago | (#23137374)

My first day in my lab consisted of tours and safety training such as "This has cyanide in it, and this is acid. If you mix them, you die." While your lab may be different, you'll be well off if you know your stuff, be independent, but know when to ask for help. It's easy to put yourself in danger of bodily harm.

who cares? (1)

bball99 (232214) | more than 5 years ago | (#23137392)

you're paying how much for your education?

they should be serving coffee and donuts!

Tips (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#23137404)

Don't worry about it. It all depends on who you get as your professor, and the discipline. I attend a research institution and have worked with both theoreticians and experimentalists, and they both act the same way. Just get it done, they don't care how. You are going to be given a project, and then set free to do it. My professor freshman year never even was in the lab, and we rarely spoke, only on occasions when he was looking for data. I liked him, but he had other things to deal with. On the theoretical side, your job is pencils and paper, and discussion. If your professor is young, you can expect a demanding schedule to hash things out, to discuss, and to read. An older professor will usually not care when you arrive, as long as he is there, and will lecture you about something, then ask for feedback. Younger professors are more demanding, and you get more credit and do more important things. Older professors are more laid-back (they can be) but you may not find yourself winning the Millenium prize just yet.

depends (1)

mc moss (1163007) | more than 5 years ago | (#23137406)

Depends on a lot of factors. I assisted in two different university labs and my experience in both were pretty different. First one was a smaller lab with two grad students and a post-doc. Since it was my first time in a lab, not much is expected from an undergrad. Just learn as much as you can about proper procedures and read up on literature that is relevant to the work being done in a lab. Since it was a smaller lab, I was always in contact with the PI and we always had discussions.

The second lab I was in was larger with two postdocs, five grad students, a lab tech, and another undergrad with me. Since I already had some experience, I didn't have to learn all the intro stuff. I was assigned to work on a project with one of the grad students and didn't have much contact with the PI since he was so busy. My advice is to completely understand what the research is about and why they are doing it and continue asking questions and advice. You won't be expected to solve any major problems that the lab is working on so just learn as much as you can. I found the labs to have a very relaxed atmosphere but I guess I got lucky and it will be different for other labs out there.

Lab work is great . . . (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#23137414)

First thing - make sure that you love whatever the research is. Like everyone has said, lab work is rarely glamorous - but if you have a serious, genuine love for the research it's self, it makes the boring stuff fun.

Next most important, in my mind, is to find friendly, fun people. Your PI will really set the tone - professional or not, fun or not, informal or really formal. Make sure that you're in an environment where you feel comfortable and supported.

Since you're coming in right out of high school, you probably won't be expected to know a lot right off the bat. You'll likely need to learn a lot, quickly. I coped by taking really precise informational and procedural notes, and doing a lot of background reading - papers published by the professors/grad students mostly.

Bottom line, though - make sure you love it. Lab work is utter tedium if you don't, and sometimes even if you do.

A Long Stand (3, Funny)

xaxa (988988) | more than 5 years ago | (#23137430)

My Uncle told me on his first day working in a lab (not in a university) he was asked to go to the store room for a "long stand". He went and asked for one, and the stores guy went to get it. 15 minutes later... you get the idea ;-)

Then his 'team' said his labcoat looked too small, so they told him to hold his arms out so they could measure it. A real long stand was quickly put through the sleeves so he couldn't move his arms.

Growing up is hard to do (1)

thethibs (882667) | more than 5 years ago | (#23137482)

The first thing you have to do is lose the Dilbert crap. Do that, people will take you seriously, and the rest will fall into place.

You will get bippity bopped (1)

Fat Wang (1230914) | more than 5 years ago | (#23137550)

You will most likely be made fun of. You will be given tasks you cannot complete. You will get your ass kicked by a bigger, smarter labworker. Someone is going to steal or swap your lunch. Someone will dip their penis in your coffee.

Like? (1)

DynaSoar (714234) | more than 5 years ago | (#23137568)

No offense, but if you're about to graduate from high school, you haven't had enough experience to apply it to any comparisons offered here. So, take it as it comes. Trust that the instructor knows what they're doing, and no matter whether that's true or not, do your best to accomplish what's set before you in the way they say to. That's the best way to get a good grade, and they might actually know what they're doing (and as I said, you don't have the experience to be able to judge that). However the instructor approaches the subject, approach it the same way, and with enthusiasm. I can't say what your lab will be like, but I think following the above will give you the best chance to like the experience, and probably learn the most from it.

If handling chemicals (4, Informative)

plopez (54068) | more than 5 years ago | (#23137576)

or other effluents, always was your hands *before* as well as after using the bathroom.

HTH

gen Y (1)

timmarhy (659436) | more than 5 years ago | (#23137598)

since your a gen Y i'll make something clear from the start - you aren't the boss, you are starting from the lowest point possible. the janitor has more cred than you do.

maybe i'm jumping the gun and you aren't one of these typical gen y kids, but oh lordy i'm looking forward to the comming wave of youtube video's of them freaking out in the work place.

Re:gen Y (2, Interesting)

cashman73 (855518) | more than 6 years ago | (#23137830)

Since somebody mentioned the janitor here, I just thought I'd mention that 9 times out of 10, it's actually well worth your time to get to know the person that regularly cleans up your lab. Seriously. Many of them are very friendly and helpful, and they talk to people. The better ones talk to professors, department chairs, deans, grad students, undergrads, techs -- virtually everyone. While they generally don't have much of a scientific background or anything, they often do have a general interest in what's going on with research, and often can provide all sorts of useful and interesting bits of wisdom that a lot of professors often forget about. I've been at several universities now and a good portion of the cleaning staff are very helpful. Plus, if you treat them well, they won't bitch as much if you make a mess in an accident or something,...

WEAR A TIE! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#23137606)

It is VERY important you be well-dressed and groomed at all times in the lab. A 3-piece suit is expected at all times. On Grace Hoppers birthday you'll need a tuxedo and white gloves.

Re:WEAR A TIE! (1)

cashman73 (855518) | more than 6 years ago | (#23137800)

A tie?!?! Are you on crack?!?! Most professors don't even wear those!

3 simple rules (1)

eatvegetables (914186) | more than 6 years ago | (#23137658)

1. Get in early.

2. Leave late.

3. Kick ass on anything you are asked to do regardless of how small and unimportant it might be.

I've found that this works great in research as well as real jobs especially if one is a new, lowly grunt.

Buy the techs coffee & donuts. (1)

Werkhaus (549466) | more than 6 years ago | (#23137744)

You can live with a monster PI, but if your techs hate you, your work will consistently and spectacularly fail.
Coffee & donuts for the lab grunts is a great way to make sure you get the help you really will need.

First day blues (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#23137746)

I work in a med school lab, permanant staff. I've been with the PI for 15 years, or so. Your first day will be wasted with administrators that have to justify their existence, and paperwork. If not the first, soon. If you're just out of high school, you'll be at the bottom of the pecking order, and there's plenty of peckers in that order.

Your experience will depend on the PI. Expect to start doing the dirty work, stuff no one else wants to do, because it's BOORING. Do it well, don't gripe, your attitude will make or break your experience. Don't wait to be told what to do, find stuff to do, ask your cow-orkers, whatever. If you're unsure of something, try to figure it out before asking. No-one minds being asked once, everyone hates being asked ten times. Don't expect to get much attention from the PI, he (or she) has lots to do, keeping the grant money coming in to keep everyone fed.

My own PI isn't the kind of guy that wants to spoon-feed. He expects us to figure out what needs to be done to accomplish his goals, and to do that. I know what he wants, and try to give it to him; he knows what I want, and gives it to me (He wants spiffy software with lots of eye-candy so he looks good at talks, and I want independence and to be left alone)

This sounds like the kind of pep-talk every new employee gets, but it's true. Go figure.

CS, Evolutionary Engineering, and Molecular Bio? (1)

moosesocks (264553) | more than 6 years ago | (#23137754)

The lab is an eclectic blend of computer science, evolutionary engineering and molecular biology, essentially it's research/development and -- best of all -- the research is worth something to me and my other pet projects.
If you'll excuse my interruption.... what exactly is it that your lab is attempting to do that involves all three of those things? Create life? Build cylons [wikipedia.org] ?

I also can't figure out for the life of me what evolutionary engineering entails...

You are pathetic. (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#23137828)

First, get a life. You are a total loser. It is hard to believe anybody would actually post something so pathetic. Second, you will be the lowest, smallest turd on the totem pole. Nobody expects you to know anything. If you look like you know too much, everyone will think you are an a$$hole. Which is pretty much a given anyway.

No stupid questions (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#23137840)

...just stupid people

life's lessons (1)

Jeff1946 (944062) | more than 6 years ago | (#23137844)

Learn to accept and live with failure, if it was easy to do, it would have been done. Learn from failures and keep trying. At the top of most fields many decisions are made for political reasons or personal ones rather than what is the best science. The best thing I could say or hear about someone for a job recommendation when asked was: "they write well."

University labs = place of learning (1)

runexe (24089) | more than 6 years ago | (#23137890)

I will echo some of the previous posts:
First and foremost exactly how the work-day goes depends entirely on the lab.
That pretty much applies to things like: etiquette, what the prof/boss is like, how your seniors (grad students/etc.) will treat you, etc.

Generally speaking though - at a university lab the main thing that will come across is the fact that it is supposed to be a place of learning. New students are expected to know very little and will need training on any of the esoteric lab equipment (or even non-esoteric lab equipment - since you're talking about a lab with a biology focus in which not everyone is a bio-person). The professor should be aware of this fact - and should have instituted a culture (from PhD students on down) which fosters the idea that people are there to learn (including the professor! Since the whole point of research is to discover new things).

I can tell you that nearly all of my experiences in university/research labs have been good - which is the reason I still work in one now (and have committed myself to the path of Piling it Higher and Deeper). YMMV. But I will say this - if the lab is not structured to teach as well as get research done - it is not the place to be in.
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