Everyone always says you must volunteer with a professor, do a thesis and obtain as much lab experiences as you can get before you leave University. Is this essential to succeed?
This is a two part blog comparing the benefits of obtaining lab experiences in University and the benefits of having no lab experiences in University. Part 1 will be a Q&A with our new member of hemtecks, tianhemtecks and her lab experiences.
1. Tell me about your lab experiences
I was very lucky to be able to stay in a research laboratory for 2.5 years. Throughout this time, I participated in 5 different projects and was able to publish 5 papers. The scope of my thesis/research was detecting new drugs to treat schizophrenia; also help the PhD and Masters students.
2. How did you obtain these lab experiences?
Apply everywhere early and follow-up to show commitment
I heard research is an important opportunity to explore a new science field and also important for any professional school application, But I wasn’t sure what to do yet and so I just decided to try to see if I was able to get a position. I started off with no ‘connections’ and so I applied through my university’s job website and sent my resume out to 50-60 of them. I received an interview and followed up a week after, I was hired.
I later found out that my interviewer (grad student) was very busy at the time and decided among the many applicants that whoever followed up first gets the position.
3. Taking a thesis and working in research is a heavy workload, why did you choose to take on both components.
Just a brief background, after landing an research job towards the end of my undergraduate degree – I also took on a thesis in the same lab.
I actually thought that the thesis component was able to alleviate my workload, that is because an 15 credit unit thesis was able replace other hard courses that I would have to take. However, this does not mean that there is less work input. Again, I can only draw experiences from my own lab experiences and so other labs that I have heard were very tough and ‘hardcore’. I had a nice supervisor and so my workload and schedule was much more flexible.
To not be overwhelmed during my thesis component, it requires a lot of time management and self-motivation. In the beginning, I focused on learning the theories and background information, this is critical for experiments and troubleshooting them. After, I just had to focus on the write up. This is not to say that experiments are easy, there is a lot of ‘failed experiments’ and often times in biochemical research there is always long waiting times.
I think working in research first have helped me greatly when it came time to complete my thesis.
4. Are all lab experiences the same? What is the difference between dry and wet lab?
No, there are different types of ‘lab’ experiences. The two main ones are: wet and dry.
Dry labs does not involve the usage of technical laboratory experiments and often times involves rigorous literature research, computer software simulations and clinical research.
Wet labs encompasses all aspects of the dry labs but also focuses on running real specimen experiments and testing.
The outcome of these two different types of lab is the same: to publish a paper
You would think that wet labs will be more time-consuming, however when compared to my friend who worked in dry labs only, we found that we spent the same amount of time working.
5. Is there anything else you would like to share?
Lab experiences varies from different people. I was very lucky to have a very positive experience from finding a great supervisor. The process of finding a supervisor is difficult in itself – but you have to find a field of interest before approach professors for an position. Majority of people who just apply for ‘whatever’ did not enjoy their scope of research because they are not interested.
If you are hesitant as to whether or not you want to pursue research, then I would suggest to just try it. Not only does it help you create an academic network but also help you develop soft skills and technical skills. For example, people pursue a thesis component is because a name on a publish paper builds on a resume, a short duration to test out the research field and it is the foot into the door of getting into the lab.