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Feb 06 2018
by D.M. Carcamo

How to Succeed in Labs

By D.M. Carcamo - Feb 06 2018
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Labs. What are they? Are they... something completely different from biology lecture? Do they have to do with something else? As you glance from face to face, you wonder to yourself, "Am I the only one who's lost?" In reality, you probably aren't. I still remember my first lab. My hands were sweaty inside the green gloves and my goggles fogged up. So please trust me, you aren't the only one who's lost. Everyone else just has a really good poker face. Nevertheless, Fresh U to the rescue! Here's a comprehensive list of ways to make sure you succeed in labs, even if you're the only one who's lost.

Preparation

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Always be prepared! Have an idea of what's happening before you go in by reading your lab manual. No, maybe you have no idea how to do a titration or bisection. That's completely fine. You'll learn by doing it in lab. Nevertheless, what is most important is to know the procedure. If you don't, you run the risk of doing something wrong or in the wrong order during lab, and that could affect your grade.

During the Experiment

Lab Safety

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Be careful and be aware. Make sure you're following lab safety protocol! Your TA or professor might be a stickler and tell you to get out if you don't follow the rules. Lab safety protocol includes wearing your goggles, lab coat, gloves, long pants, covering your feet and ankles completely, etc. Yes, it may seem like a lot right now, but in reality it isn't that bad, especially when you realize that it's for your own well-being (and so that your college/university doesn't get sued for negligence or liability).

In labs, you work with scalpels, acids, flames, the list goes on. Honestly, even if your lab didn't require personal protective equipment like goggles and shoes, I'd wear them anyway. You really don't want to be that one kid that handles an acid and then touches their eyes.

Experiment Preparation

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Always be sure that your material preparation is impeccable. What do I mean? I mean making sure your beakers, your scalpels, your gloves are clean when handling the experiment materials. Contamination of your materials is a really big source of error! So the next time your lab says to get X base and Y acid, make sure to use separate flasks!

When measuring, be sure to be very precise. Measure below the meniscus in chemistry, etc. Precision and accuracy in measurements is very important!

Lastly, it's fine if you're nervous and aren't sure if you're doing something right. Just ask the TA or professor.

Recording Results

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Be specific! If your lab manual calls for three decimal places, use three decimal places! Moreover, know the instruments you're using. In chemistry labs, you will encounter burets, flasks, beakers, etc. Know how many significant figures you can use without compromising the accuracy of your measurement. For example, with burets you can only have two decimal places. In biology, record what magnification you're using on the microscope.

When doing a lab that requires observations like biology labs and sometimes chemistry labs, be sure that you record everything you see. Maybe the shape of the organ shows that the lab was a baby, that it was sickly, etc. Maybe there were indentations in the organ or in the skin. Maybe you are trying to determine whether it is paramecium or just an organelle. In chemistry, record the shades that happen during titration or redox reactions. Maybe you are doing a flame test and you are trying to determine if the chemical is a combination of potassium and zinc.

Finally, record everything! Make sure you record the sample you are using, the amount of the sample, etc. It can be very important when computing results or for your TA determining if your answers are correct.

After the Experiment

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Clean all your equipment thoroughly. It sets you up for your next lab. If you have already cleaned your instruments, it's less likely that you'll run the risk of contamination for your next experiment or lab.

Make your deductions carefully and double check all your computations! Pay attention to significant figures, using the right numbers, etc. If you can, double check your results with your lab partner.

If you follow all of these, we have no doubt that you'll succeed! Good luck in your next lab! We believe in you, even if you think that you're the only one who's lost, which you really aren't.

Lead Image Credit: Pexels

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D.M. Carcamo - University of California, Riverside

D.M. Carcamo loves animals, people and creativity. She is Senior Editor and contributing writer on Fresh U and Media and Outreach Coordinator at an interdisciplinary honors journal. You can follow her on Instagram @dmcarcamo_ to find out more about her creative hijinks and new adventures.

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