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When I had entered college I was convinced that scientific research was not for me. Despite my budding love of science, I had never planned to actually pursue something that is at the core of the field. I realize now, looking back, that this was in large part due to numerous misunderstandings on my part (some more egregious than others). I have organized some of these misunderstandings into a list in hopes of helping others to better understand the things I wish I had known. Without a further ado, here are seven things I wish I had known about scientific research when I first entered college.

1. There is more to research than just pipetting and working with mice

I blame TV for this misconception. For some reason I had begun to believe that research could essentially only take two forms; Pipetting and working with mice. That being said there is in fact a wide range of techniques and experiences associated with research. From measuring the circadian rhythm of zebrafish to running agarose gels, the options are practically limitless.

2. Pipetting is fun

Despite what I said in #1 I have actually grown to LOVE pipetting. It is a little bit repetitive but once you get comfortable pipetting it can actually be quite relaxing. Now I am always happy when I look and see that I have 50 samples to pipette. I recommend trying to use that time to enjoy listening to a podcast or something like that while you pipette.

3. Publishing matters

As the saying goes “Publish or perish.” While this isn’t so much true for undergrads, it is true for most other people involved with research. This won’t impact you directly but it certainly has an impact on the research culture in general.

4. Don’t be afraid to ask questions

Admittedly this one applies to lots of things, but that includes research. Ideally you are learning throughout this research experience. Absolutely try and develop independence (when appropriate) but also ask questions. In my experience it is knowing the tiny details of the procedures that really makes a difference in how confident you feel.

5. There are other types of research besides working in a wet lab

I personally love the wet lab setting but it certainly isn’t for everybody. It is easy to imagine that the only way to be doing scientific research is to be wearing purple lab gloves and pouring beakers with weird concoctions but that certainly isn’t the case. There are lots of cool opportunities that don’t involve physically being in a wet lab. These can range from modeling/analyzing data on computers to 3-printing items that will be used later in lab.

6. The details matter (so pay attention)

I suppose this one is obvious but it is hard to grasp just how true it is until you mess something up. Be sure to not only always be extremely aware of what is happening but also know what could go wrong (and what you should be doing if something does go wrong).

7. Have fun

Research (and also anything involving lab work) is an amazing opportunity to not only hone your skills but also to better understand concepts and ideas. You should absolutely work hard, focus, do your best, and all of that stuff, but also make sure that you are taking the time to enjoy the experience.

Hopefully this helps to dispel some misconceptions and myths about working in lab. Lab work may not be for everybody but I absolutely encourage at least trying it out!

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the author

Samantha Linder is a sophomore at Smith College where she is double majoring in neuroscience and art history. Samantha's favorite words include hippocampus, logorrhea, and Benedict Cumberbatch.

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