How to Be Successful in Your College Lab Class

One of the most frequent questions I get from my friends here at school is how I manage to be one of the first people out of all of my lab classes, yet manage to pull a good grade from the course.  I thought maybe I’d divulge some of my secrets here so future science majors may make a use of them.  After all, lets face it; Lab classes suck and no one wants to put more time and effort into them than they absolutely have to to get that one credit.  So, here are some of little secrets that keep me yielding good lab results even though I’m one of the first people to leave.

  • Clean your glassware!
Believe it or not, this is one of the most important things you need to keep in mind before preforming an experiment.  Chances are, whoever had your lab equipment before you didn’t bother to clean it before you checked into your drawer. I don’t care if you clean everything in your drawer the first day or clean everything your going to use before an experiment, but make sure that before you run your first experiment you wash whatever you are going to be using.  One of the biggest roadblocks people run into is random, off the wall results that leave you redoing the experiment from scratch.  One potential culprit is the left over chemical residue lining your beaker or test tube from the former occupant. Just do yourself a favor and wash your equipment. 
  • Read each sentence one at a time!

This sounds totally dumb, but reading each sentence and following the directions one at a time leaves much less room for error.  Often times, teachers write the lab manuals so that there may be 5 bulleted points, but there are several small steps in each point.  Leaving out one sentence can and will cost you an experiment.  So, if my step reads:

“Place 200 ml of H2O into a 500 ml beaker.  Add 3 drops of H2SO4 to H2O.  Stir.  Measure out 50ml of soln and place in a 100ml beaker”  

I literally measure out the H2O first.  Then I reread the next step.  Add 3 drops of H2SO4.  Stir.  Then I reread and make sure I am measuring out the right solution and putting it into the right sized beaker.  It seems counter productive if you want to get out of lab quicker, but in reality it eliminates little mistakes that a lot of other people make.  There’s nothing worse than realizing your forgot to add something and having to start again.

  • Don’t get caught up in lines for machines or chemicals.  Find other ways to accelerate your work.

Depending on the size of your lab, you may end up with long lines or masses of people milling around balance’s, the fume hood, or anything else that is in high demand and low supply.  My first plan is to beat out the rest of the people and get to the much needed things first.  However, if that doesn’t work, don’t get caught up waiting in the back of the line.  Look through the lab and see what else you can start working on.  Need to build an apparatus?  Start it.  Need the weight of a piece of equipment somewhere else in the lab?  Go get it.  Even just pulling out the things you need for your lab will help you move faster later.  Then, as soon as the line gets a little shorter, jump in, get your stuff, and get out.

  • Multiple Parts to the Lab?  Pick the Middle to Start!

Some annoying labs have three or four fully independent parts to the entire experiment.  It’s a lab teachers way of pushing together all the stuff that they don’t have enough weeks for you to do separately, and when you see one of these wonderful labs on the syllabus, you know almost certainly that you are going to be there for the entire two hours and forty minutes you are scheduled.  Not necessarily.  Start with the middle lab.  Most people will stupidly start at the beginning or at the end one.  Start in the middle, or pick the one that looks longest and most involved, if the other students seem to be evenly distributed throughout the sections.  

  • Need help?  Grab the TA pronto.

Don’t guess in lab.  Grab the TA, ask your question, and get cleared up.  Guessing leads to mistakes.  If you are shy, either bite the bullet or accept that you may be one of the last people to leave.

Other than that, try to work quickly and effectively, but carefully.   One misread step can send you back to the beginning like some bad game of Sorry.  And don’t feel bad if you hate lab; you’re not alone.  Most people don’t like having to put the amount of hours required to do well into a one credit class, but hopefully some of these tips will help you speed up your lab times and get out faster!


The Major Snob Gets her Hand Smacked

I will admit it right now.  I am a huge major snob.  If you have no idea, a major snob is the typical college student who believes that their major is either better or harder than any other major on campus.  And I may be one of the biggest major snobs on the whole campus.  

Before you read further, if you are going to be highly offended by me talking about my major, believing being a science major is tougher than virtually any other major, or are going to go into a chronic rage about me belittling the work involved in other majors, do yourself a favor and go read a different post.  I’ve never said being a major snob is a good thing, but I also never claimed to be perfect.

So, I am a major snob.  I believe being a science major is rougher than most other majors.  Why?  The amount of time and effort I put into my homework and studying is unbelievable.  Most of my science classes are based off of four equally impossibly hard tests.  Getting extra points that might help bolster your grade is hard.  The tests are detailed and tricky, and it always seems like the material you are most uncomfortable with makes up the bulk of the exam.  Not to mention that science throws the distribution of credits per hour to the wind.  Science majors are forced to take labs, which are usually worth one credit.  However, that is one painful credit.  Lab’s usually last about 3 hrs, and writing the lab report and doing the equations afterwords usually takes even longer.  All for one lousy credit.  And I think my least favorite thing about being a science major is you never know when you are done with your work.

 For example, my education major friend often has to write a paper, come up with a project outline, and on some odd days make a puppet or something else creative like that.  I, however, have to study for an upcoming tests.  So, she writes her paper, makes her puppet, and draws up a project outline and she knows shes caught up.  However, how exactly do I measure when I am done studying?  Is it when I memorize everything on the page?  Is it when my head explodes from thinking?  Is it when I get done with a chapter?  And no matter what choice you make, you always feel guilty making it.  It’s always the wrong one.

So, the other day I posted an annoyed status about being a science major.  It sounded something like this: “I’ve come to the conclusion that I am a huge major snob.  If you’re not a science major, you’re weak”.  I’m not one to complain on facebook, but I had just gotten done pounding my head with cellular and molecular biology, redrawing diagrams, and learning all about how the effector acetylene cyclase forms cAMP from ATP, which then goes on to activate protein kinase A and so on and so forth.  I had a moment of weakness, I was bitter that other people were outside enjoying the nice day, and I posted a crabby status.  No big deal.  People complain on facebook all the time.

The response I got from that simple post was overwhelming.  People telling me to walk in their shoes.  People telling me I had no idea what it was like to take 18 credits and work a job.  People telling me their major is so misunderstood.

This would be a good point to verify that I work two jobs, take 18 credits, do undergraduate research, run and manage the AWC, shadow, and volunteer.  I feel the pain.  

Like typical Hannah, I didn’t back down.  I fought my case, refused to budge, ticked everyone off, and had someone defriend me in the process.  It was absolutely amazing to me.

I think the funniest part of the whole thing was that none of the people who are my friends now wrote or posted anything.  It was all people I went to high school with and haven’t talked to in three years.  I couldn’t believe that these people who had no clue what I go through on a daily basis, and who don’t really even know me or how I operate would have the nerve to attack me specifically to defend their majors.  It was incredible.  One girl even compared my comment to posting ‘Hail Hitler’ on my facebook.  When I posted it, I really didn’t think it was quite that serious.

Honestly, I have no problem with what career people decide to pick.  I mean, we need teachers, business people, journalists and writers, and what ever else in the world.  It takes all sorts to make a world.  But that doesn’t mean I can’t whine and complain about the amount of work I have to do in my own course study.

At least I learned there are three things to never discuss with people; politics, religion, and what major is best.