Problems in Lab? Here are some Tips!

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Hey Y’all!

Thanks for reaching out to me after my last post and for reading my blog. I appreciate you! A few of you shared that you’ve had similar experiences in the past and I’d like to share some tips that may help!

First, let me say that all is well! I had a meeting with my PI the day after my “not-so-great day” (see last blog post) and it was a complete 180 for me in a good way.

Below are a few lessons that I’ve learned over the years:

  1. Process your feelings in a safe and healthy space.When you’re having a problem (in the lab), give yourself space to process your emotions in a healthy way. Leave early if you need to, take a walk and several deep breaths, vent to your friends in private, write a blog, go for a run, whatever it is; release that energy in a way that’s therapeutic for you and respectful to those around you. The last thing you want to do is bottle up any negative energy and implode or explode (in a professional setting).
  2. Set up regular meetings with your PI.Don’t wait for things to go awry before having a sit-down conversation with your advisor. If you so happen to have an issue to discuss, make sure you’ve allowed yourself space to clear your head and have a positive attitude (see point 1).Conveniently, I had scheduled to meet with my PI a few weeks ago and it just so happened to be the day after my “not-so-great-day.” I scheduled this meeting because I wanted to keep my advisor up to date with what I’d been doing in the lab, affirm that I was meeting the expectations for my project, and to receive any (constructive) feedback. It also forced me to start making a story about my data. It’s too easy to do experiments and get lost in the sauce.For example, I was making 2 sets of mutation (let’s call them “mutations A and B”) in the protein that I’m working with. Initially, I had planned to make a “mutation C” but decided “mutation B” would be better. While preparing my report for our meeting, I noticed that I had been referring to “mutation B” as “mutation C.”Structured meetings help you to stay organized and give you opportunities to fill in any gaps in your work.
  3. Be Vocal. Communicate effectively.I recommend seeking advice from people you can trust to keep your concerns confidential and  who are experienced in your field. For example, *bare with me, corny analogy approaching* let’s say you work at Wendy’s and you’re used to flipping 10 burgers/ hour. Then you get a new job at McDonald’s and your boss expects you to flip 50 burgers/hour. Before discussing this at your meeting, maybe ask a friend who works at another McDonald’s how many burgers their employees flip per hour. If they say they flip 50 burgers/hour then that may be the norm. If they say they flip 5 burgers/hour, that’s more incentive to bring up your concerns when you meet with your boss. Alternatively, I wouldn’t recommend that you ask your friend who works in fashion retail how many burgers you should be flipping because they don’t have the correct perspective.I say this because you don’t want to set a bad precedent for yourself by bringing up an issue that may just be your responsibility to handle. Of course, you should ask for help; but the tone of the conversation changes when you’re asking for help vs. addressing an issue of being overworked.In my case, after chatting with a few people, I decided to voice my concerns during our meeting. Initially, I felt that I might be overreacting and what I was experiencing was due to cultural differences and I almost didn’t say anything. I’m glad I did because that certainly was not the case, however, there were things that I needed to improve (see point 4).
  4. Be Receptive
    AKA be open to constructive feedback.
    I learned that I need to be more assertive in the lab, especially when it comes to discussing my needs, goals, and asking people for help. Sometimes I feel like I’m bothering people when I ask for help but I need to get over that.  My lack of confidence (let’s call a spade a spade) definitely contributed to the feelings of my not-so-great-day.I also learned that I need to be more proactive with sharing my experimental plans. As a result, one thing I decided to do is prepare weekly reports of proposed experiments and share that with my mentors in advance. That way, we’re both on the same page and can work together to make sure I am as efficient as possible.At the end of the day, this is the first time that I’ve been given full rein with my research project from day 1. I’ve done independent research before but this experience is a bit different not being tied to an academic program. I have a lot more freedom especially with my expertise in the field.Being comfortable and confident and assertive with asking people for their guidance is an essential life skill. That’s what networking is. That’s how people get sponsors, discounts, perks, etc. I’m sure the CEO of *insert fortune 500 company* didn’t sit around thinking about how they were inconveniencing people when they needed help.In conclusion:1. Woosah, take a deep breath
    2. Communicate effectively
    3. Be open to constructive feedback

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