Report is due, but don’t panic!

Credit to: Calvin and Hobbes (Scientific Setbacks)

As graduate students, we are often assigned teaching jobs, most commonly lab and course TAs. I really enjoyed my time with students when we did lab work together (I’m a lab TA), and we chitchatted about life, study, weather, orĀ  future. My colleagues have various working styles, but in general we are a bunch of cooperative ants focusing on our tasks. On the other hand, grading several dozens of lab reports is the most painful moment at the end of every experiment cycle – we are sad to see people forgetting what we emphasized during the experiment, not double-checking the formatting, giving us blah-blahs without even reading the background information…

I remember when I was an undergrad, writing lab report was the most painful task as well, sometimes even harder than getting a result. This is not surprising, because for science (at least), your results are solid pieces of data, and there is usually a reason for a good one (or a bad one) that we cannot always think of at once. If all your lab mates failed miserably, maybe the material you started with was not in a perfect shape. In lots of teaching labs, the techniques we teach (you use) are in fact not the most up-to-date ones we apply daily in a real research lab nowadays, but they are still useful enough. No matter how many external reasons we can find to justify unexpected results, don’t forget to analyse the experiment itself – its mechanism, its origin, possible pathways leading to different outcomes, etc. It is funny that people really love to write ‘human error’ in their justification for low yields or wrong product, which is true all the time, but they actually fail to think critically – what can go wrong besides myself? I cannot explain some phenomena in my daily research, but instead of giving up and say ‘human error’, I do a google search, and try to find an answer. If I cannot find a good one, I ask around.

To those who are so afraid to ask us for help – please come to us, we are here (and paid) to stand with you and help you master whatever knowledge you need to get. People have different personalities and I can totally understand the feeling, but before you panic and sweat in front of your computer screen/your report paper, remember you are not alone, and we are more than happy to reply your emails and see you in person. Also, one thing that’s never wrong – start writing early!

The semester is coming to an end. In the middle of stressful reviewing, you can visit multiple student services in case you feel too bad and need to talk to someone. We had therapy dogs (woof) and free gym session in the past, so keep an eye on them if you are interested. I wish you all the best in your final exam, and quote my favourite sentence, ‘may the force be with you’.

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