September 26, 2017
We are all striving to be more productive at work, and in biomedical research, productivity is particularly vital in keeping up with the rapid pace of scientific breakthroughs. Whether you are aiming to finish your dissertation research, publish a paper, complete your experiments in a timely fashion to gain more personal time or all of the above, efficiency is the key to helping you achieve your goals. Here are some tips to increase your productivity at the lab bench.
1. Plan your experiments for the week.
The nature of science is often unpredictable, and your experimental findings can lead you in directions in which you hadn’t initially anticipated. However, it is helpful to keep a rough outline of the experiments you would like to accomplish on a weekly basis. This will not only enable you to track your progress in meeting your goals, but it will also help you organize and plan the timing of your experiments. For example, in planning your week, you may discover that in one experiment you have a four-hour antibody incubation, which will give you ample time to set up and run a qPCR plate for another experiment. On the other hand, be careful not to plan too many experiments for one day, as this may lead to rushing through protocols and making mistakes as a consequence. Thoughtful planning will help you maximize your time at the bench, and it can free up more time for relaxation and fun outside the lab.
2. Read protocols very carefully before beginning a new experiment.
Before embarking on a new experiment, make sure you carefully read and thoroughly understand each step of the protocol you will be following. If you have a clear understanding of what reagents and equipment each step requires, why you are performing each step, and how long each step takes, it will help you plan and perform the experiment as efficiently as possible. Moreover, in the event that your experiment doesn’t technically work as one would expect, having a thorough understanding of the protocol will facilitate your ability to troubleshoot it. Also, double-check that you have all of the reagents that the protocol requires in advance. You don’t want to discover mid-experiment that you do not have enough enzyme to finish the protocol and will need to restart from step one!
3. Discuss your experiments with your lab-mates.
When planning your experiments, it is not only advisable to discuss your plans with your PI, it can also be helpful to talk about them with other lab members who have hands-on experience. Your lab-mates may be able to offer you insight on how to run protocols or make buffers more efficiently, or they may have tips or revisions to the protocols based on their own troubleshooting experience. They may have even completed the experiment themselves, which will save you time and effort! Importantly, the more you communicate with other lab members, the more doors you open for collaborations, which will greatly increase your scientific productivity in the long term.
4. Incorporate healthy habits into your daily routine.
Getting enough rest, eating healthy, and exercising regularly are all essential for maintaining good health and focus throughout your workday. Although it may seem tempting to start an experiment at 9 pm to get the results by the next morning, you are better off going home to sleep and beginning the experiment in the morning with a rested mind. Also, mindful practices, such as meditation and yoga, can reduce anxiety and help you to stay present throughout your daily activities. Integrating whichever healthful or stress-relieving activities work best for you into your daily routine will enable you to perform better in the lab and promote your overall well-being. For more tips on staying healthy as a scientist, click here.
5. Record everything in your lab notebook.
Keeping a record of your experimental procedures is required of you as a scientist, and meticulous note-taking will help you become more efficient in designing and executing your experiments. Especially the first time you run a protocol, make sure you write down every detail about how each step is performed, and include information about buffer preparation and where reagents and equipment are in the lab. Even if you make a mistake or the experiment doesn’t work as robustly as you had anticipated, write everything down, so you have more information to guide you in troubleshooting the next run. Also, make sure you set aside note-taking time each day to keep your lab notebook up-to-date. Recording your experiments retroactively weeks, or even months, after you completed them will cost you time in sifting through old notes to remember what exactly you did, and your notes are less likely to be accurate. If you’d like more information on taking efficient and elegant notes using an electronic lab notebook, check out our website!
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