Monday, January 11, 2010

Lab Resolutions

Last summer I had an undergrad research position (UROP) in the lab of Tom Knight, one of the founders of synthetic biology. It was pretty good, but I really didn't make as much of it as I could have.

Then I went incommunicado for an entire semester. I just dropped off the face of the planet, as far as TK was concerned. Taking a break from research for a semester is not in itself terrible -- if you have a difficult course load, you have a difficult course load. However, just dropping off the face of the planet is highly unprofessional and not recommended.

In about half an hour I'll be in a meeting with TK, beginning my re-entry into the lab. There'll be random technical detail updates to go over... but privately, there are a lot of things I want to improve about the way I approach lab work. Thus, this list of resolutions, which I'll be periodically updating.

Scheduling / Productivity

- I will filter my internet access while at work, both WWW and zephyr. (I already have filtering mechanisms; it's just a matter of applying them strictly.)

- During IAP: I will go in to lab every weekday, and if I miss a lot, try to make up a bit on the weekend. Once term starts: I will schedule blocks of lab time among my classes, going in at least 3x a week... I'm undecided about the weekend. I will adhere to this lab schedule as if it were a class schedule, i.e. no skipping.

- If I didn't pipet something or run a gel or look at my cells or do any other Real Lab Thing, it didn't count as being in lab. (I'm not sure about this one... probably needs some caveats about "what if I'm waiting for my primers to come in the mail" or something.)

Communication & Stuff

- I will continue working on my M. florum project from the summer, and also discuss with TK what's best to do about the fact that I don't actually find it tremendously interesting. The solution may involve picking up a second project.

- If I'm having difficulty extracting some nugget of information from the literature, I will get help by the next day instead of putting it off. I will strive to ensure that said help actually improves my literature-searching skillz instead of being just "Professor Awesome saves the day again".

- In order to keep myself accountable for time management, and to keep a clear view of overall project goals instead of being bogged down in minutiae, I will have some kind of meeting or status update with TK every day I am in lab unless he's out of town. If he's out of town for several days running, frequent email updates.

- I will figure out a way of explaining my research to my relatives that does not include the word "plasmid" (and probably should not include the words "user interface" either -- last summer I got lazy and made up a computer analogy that wasn't very accurate).

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