Prepare before practical classes; run clean experiments!

Good preparation before practical classes can help you prevent making frustrating mistakes such as setting up an experiment incorrectly for a long time or not recording all the data needed. Otherwise, you might have to start your experiment all over again. What does good preparation require of you?

Good preparation means knowing:

  • Where you have to be and when
  • What items you need to bring with you
  • What you are going to be doing and why
  • Some background into the investigation
  • How you are expected to present your findings

Read the schedule carefully for the time and location of the class and what items, such as a lab coat or calculator, you need to take. In addition, a lined notebook to record your results and any notes would be ideal. Get into the habit of recording your experimental notes since some research projects, like the Final Year Projects, require a lab book to be submitted along with the report. Most scientific employers require detailed notes to be kept too so that any experimental results can be verified at a later date if necessary.

Read the details of the experiment to understand the experiment you would be doing, especially if it’s one you’ve never done before. Familiarise yourself with the descriptions of the experimental protocols by highlighting any key sections of the methods, or for example, by highlighting any specific measurements that need to be made at specific times. Identifying key steps in the procedures can also help with delegating the work if you’re working in groups.

Read the background information with understanding to put what you are doing clearly into context. Typically, the underlying biology for the experiment has been presented during the lectures or tutorials, so reading your lecture notes can supplement the background for the experiment.

Check on how you should present your findings because it can vary from class to class. Sometimes, your professors might simply want you to fill in tables or draw graphs and answer some specific questions, whilst other professors require a full scientific report. Knowing in advance of what is expected of you will help you be more efficient in your work and save you time in the long run.

If you’ve done some preparation for the practical class, it is much more likely that the class itself will go well. Now go and get some science done!

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