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5 great tips for undergraduate researchers

By: Roche Life Sciences

Posted: May 17, 2015 | Career & Lifestyle

Undergraduate studies are invaluable to development as a researcher. In many cases, you will be instructed to pair up with a senior researcher or mentor and then establish your skills over time, becoming more independent. Think of it as a life sciences apprenticeship.

You want to take advantage of every moment you have in the lab so you can garner expertise in important applications like bioinformatics and absolute quantification. There's a lot to be absorbed during this time, so be sure to get the most out of your tenure as an undergraduate researcher with these great tips:

Develop writing skills
Postdoc research and the path to becoming an effective principal investigator involve technical skills in writing. This means that you will have to become well-versed in the writing style your institution chooses and familiar with computer literacy and oral presentations. Writing is not always a strong suit for young researchers, so be open to constructive criticism when your mentors proofread your work.

Ask questions
As a developing researcher, it is crucial that you understand why your mentors are taking you through the various steps of getting grants, lab meetings and safety training. So much of life sciences revolves around mastering the basics in the lab. This produces purified yields at a high volume and gets results that are as close to perfect as possible. Understanding why you are continually making solutions and learning techniques will help you hone in on your skills as a postdoc researcher or PI.

Have patience
Funding can be unpredictable and research is often a slow process. Because of this, undergraduate researchers need to find a sense of patience that is sometimes hard to conquer in a fast-paced world. However, the rewards of your full attention will be rewarded down the line. If you run into slow time at the lab, you can always talk to postgrad researchers about challenges they have encountered, read about trends in your field or ask for more work. 

Keep detailed notes
So many of the great masters of scientific research prided themselves on keeping detailed (sometimes to the extreme) notes. Every time you go through a protocol you aren't familiar with, take the time to write down the methods and applications used. This keeps your work accurate and consistent, and your notes can definitely help when troubleshooting is needed in the lab. Your mentors and supervisors are going to want to know what went wrong/right during an application, and your answer will likely be in the notes you have taken.

Go beyond the minimum
While your mentor is there to guide you along the way, you need to keep in mind that your personal responsibility for applications in the lab is still crucial for your success. You and your mentor both need establish independence in your work, which means that you need to look interested and remain involved in the lab process. While you will work together, you still have intellectual ownership of what you produce and procure. Having authorship of your work is one of the first steps to becoming a great researcher. 

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