Tips for the undergrad? - (Jul/21/2009 )
So I'm a new 3rd year undergrad in a lab and just started working last month. It's starting to stress me out because I keep doing things wrong, and I'm one of those people who, before this experience, didn't make a LOT of mistakes in a particular area. And now I'm a little obsessive with my mistakes - I'll think about them to the point where I'm about to break. I know it's probably not a big deal in the long run, but I realize that mistakes cost money, and it wasn't money that I got. I wish I could buy some lab-related common sense! I really want to be a good lab student, but my confidence level has dropped since I started. What are some good things to keep in mind? Oh, and how about a good way to organize my lab notebook? Things that should be in it?
Its OK to make mistakes that is what the teaching process is all about. BUT, the best way to learn from your mistakes is admit that there is a problem and ask for help. I once had a maths teacher that said (repeatedly) "smart people ask questions". No one expects you to know everything on your first day. The other alternative is to sit down and go through your experiment with someone (supervisor, post-doc, phd, ect.) before you start and ask for any hints and tips....even if it has been explained before.
Although its good to consider the finacial consiquences of your actions, remember, someone (more experienced) will have done something far worse. The school I did my honours year in had an award at the end of the year called the Gold Rotor Award (there was also a silver and a bronze as well). It was awarded to the person how did the most damage to equipment/ budget/ building/ general all round work flow of the school each year. The three awards where rotors that had been incorrectly weight and exploded in the ultracentrifuge over the years (they were mounted and engraved with each award winner). Two examples of previous winners: 1) a PhD that ran a uni boat into a reef causing it to sink and be written-off and 2) a professor that purchased $200 000 worth of equipment from a not-so-well-know company because "it was a really good deal"; the company went under 6 months later voiding the maintainance warenty; 12 months later all the equipment broke down had to be replaced with $400 000 worth of new equipment.
Relax - life is short.
Ask your prof how he or she prefers lab notebooks to be kept.