Listen to the Rhythm of the Lab

In a full-year research project, there’s often an mental, physical, emotional slump after Christmas for students. We had just seen our families over the holiday, and who is ever really ready for another hyper-stressed semester? You know I am not making things up over here; so many people feel the same way, so don’t ever feel out of place because you’re feeling the winter blues.

I admit, that I too fall under this category. In my four undergraduate years (yes, it took me four years to realize this), I’ve learned that I need several days to get back to my regular routine. I think the word routine cannot be emphasized enough. If I fall out of balance and out of my schedule, everything falls apart. I feel as though I have jinxed my schedule-juju-ness. The way to do this would be to acquire an agenda. SUS always generously gives out free ones in the beginning of every school year (you can pick them up in the Burnside basement!) Write down every single task you need to do, and be as specific as possible. I find that if I simply allocate a timeslot for “homework,” I don’t end up doing anything. Try to limit the choices for your brain – force it to work for you.

Here’s an example of what’s in my agenda:

10 – 12:30: classes

12:30: set up experiment XX (you should number your experiments so you know what you’re working on!)

My days are shorter when I have to set up an experiment, it usually takes me half an hour to have everything up and running. But when I have to work up my reactions (which generally take 15—24 hours), I need to make sure that I don’t have classes at the same time.

Morning: book NMR time

I need to use the NMR to determine whether I have my product or not, but everybody needs to use the same instrument. So I wake up early to book it.

10 – 12:30: classes (I’m fortunate enough to have a very regular schedule this semester!)

12:30: work up reaction XX

I usually will have to stay in the lab until late afternoon. I then go home around 5/6 to do schoolwork.

I know it doesn’t seem like much, but it’s all about knowing your own rhythm around the lab. Everyone works at a different pace. In our lab, we have people who take several hours to set up a reaction to half an hour. What I’m trying to say is that everybody works differently, so don’t worry if you need more time to figure out your work pattern – it took me a couple of years, after all!

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