Summer is coming: how to do your science research?


As many science students have done, so did I – undergraduate students usually choose to spend at least one summer to stay on campus (or somewhere) and get their hands on real-life lab work. It can be honours project, research course (396 courses), work-study, or just volunteering. Depending on which lab you are in, you can make molecules, tune robots, culture cells, purify proteins, do interviews, and so on.

It is common knowledge that what we see in the teaching lab is just the tip of an iceberg, and real-life scientific research involves more than just reading manuals and getting results. First, you will be assigned a reading list of literatures to get to know the area, and basic theories you need to understand to complete your task. If this is your first summer research project, do your reading even before starting your first day. The first week for you would be getting familiar with equipments, procedures, and how to keep yourself away from accidents.

Then you will start to learn basic techniques required to do scientific research in the area you are interested in. Remember that you choose to join in this lab because you are thinking of your future path, not just for fun, so pay great attention to the tricks and experiences your supervisors tell you. It would save you so much time when you need to be on your own. Don’t be afraid to ask questions, because your supervisors are aware of the fact that you are a new undergraduate with little or no lab experiences. It is better to ask earlier than later, so you have less chance to make mistakes.

You only have three to four months, and it is not easy to achieve some so-called breakthrough on your project, and it is even not uncommon that you cannot get desired results. No matter which stage you progress to, it is always important to keep good records of your experimental procedures and results. Organization of your data can help you identify major problems faster, leads you to read pertinent literature, and find effective solutions.

For most of scientific research areas, repetition cannot be avoided, and reproducibility is very important in reporting the results. To maximize your efficiency in this summer, consider approximately how many trials you need to do, and at the same time modify your plan according to the information you receive. You are not seasoned graduate students or post-docs, so don’t push yourself too hard. However, you always need a plan, that’s why I emphasized before the significance of reading background literatures. I learned these after several years in the lab, and I realize that if you plan your day well, you can multitask very well, and get reproducible results without rushing.

Besides research, you would participate group meetings, maintenance of the lab, and have a taste of how academic lab functions as an entity. You would listen to stories of more senior students, which would save you from pitfalls in your future. You would also enjoy the beauty of science research, and trigger your curiosity towards the research area you are interested in. One word, scientific research is not experiments all the time, communication with peers and seniors will teach you so much, and you would benefit from these some day (if not now).

If you are doing summer research in the lab, or planning to do so in the future, I wish you good luck, and enjoy the time with science and friends!

For those who are interested in funding opportunities (Science):

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