How to make the most of your day in the lab

By: Roche Life Science

Posted: December 15, 2015 | Everyday Essentials for Research

Nothing beats the excitement and sense of pride that accompanies a successful experiment. And while good science is certainly the driving force behind these accomplishments, the ability to maximize your productivity and opportunities for success should not be ignored. We all can relate to those awkward time gaps when your gel is running or your samples are washing or incubating. In this article, we will list our top 10 tips for maximizing your lab productivity:

1. Plan ahead. While this might seem like the most obvious piece of advice, it is often the most difficult to carry out. We know at the end of a long week, you want nothing more than too wrap up your work and head out the door. But if you can, we recommend thinking through your experiments for the week or two ahead, making sure you have the necessary reagents and protocols and that you have split your cells accordingly. No researcher wants to get a big experiment started and realize he or she is out of a necessary antibody or that a critical solution is nowhere to be found. Maintain a running to-do list for your upcoming experiments and just keep marching down the list of preparation tasks. There will always be plenty of other unpredictable fires to put out, so save yourself the headache when you can.

2. Get all your ducks (or tubes) in a row. Take advantage of the time while your gel is running to prep your transfer or staining materials. Similarly, while incubating samples, use that time to prepare and label all the various sets of tubes you will need. This has the advantage of saving time at the end of the day, and it also reduces errors by preventing you from having to rush to label a set of tubes while your precious samples sit on ice at a later step.

3. Batch your solutions. If you know you are about to do a large number of chromatin immunoprecipitations, IHC processing or other time-consuming assay, make a large batch of your solutions early on. Solutions always seem to run out at the most inopportune times, as fate would have it. Future you will thank you for this.

4. Put your writing hat on. It can be difficult for many researchers to quickly switch to writing mode for short snippets of time. Some individuals adapt more readily to this, but many prefer to have longer, more uninterrupted periods of time for writing. Even if this is the case, you can still accomplish writing tasks during shorter periods by working on less demanding sections. For instance, if you have a 30-minute incubation, plan to sit down and work on the methods section. Whether you work on writing a manuscript or thesis, this can be unexpectedly time-consuming, as you'll have to track down details and record buffers, antibodies and other experimental details. We recommend using short breaks during your time in the lab to assemble these details. It's enough to get something accomplished and requires minimal brain power.

5. Read. You likely have a backlog of papers you've been meaning to catch up on or that nagging review article is ever-so-daunting, and you just need to get over the initial hump. Well, print out or download a solid set of manuscripts and have them ready. That 45-minute incubation is a perfect time to grab a much-needed cup of coffee, sit by the window and get your learn on.

6. Tackle emails. (Almost) everyone appreciates timely email responses. Those 5- to 10-minute washes are perfect for pulling out your phone or sitting at your desk to quickly respond to that bolus of emails you surely accumulated throughout the morning. If you read the email, go ahead and respond. Most emails don't require lengthy responses and are better to address when you get them rather than saving them for later.

7. Be your own administrative assistant. Do you have a thesis committee meeting coming up? Send out a calendar invite, reserve a room and projector and make a reminder note in your calendar to pick up a jug of coffee and snacks (most importantly). Have you gotten no fewer than 11 reminders to complete online training modules, update certifications or document participation? Well, your samples have 15 minutes to spin down in the centrifuge, so sit down and knock these out of the way.

8. Put your orders in. Do you have a new experiment coming up or a growing list of supplies you're running low on? Those 18 minutes left on your timer can allow you to grab that list of reagents you need and get your orders taken care of.

9. Peer review. Do you have a manuscript you've been meaning to review? Well, when you set that 10-minute timer, sit down and print out the paper and figures. Have it all ready for to peruse during your next antibody labeling or on your train ride home.

10. Nap. Sometimes, the best way you can spend 20 minutes during a long week is to find a cozy chair in a coffee shop or lounge area, put in your headphones, set an alarm and rest those tired eyes. A little refreshing change of scenery or a cat nap can revive you on even the most exhausting of days - plus coffee, lots of coffee.


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