“it’s 3 am and I’m doing my lab report.”

“it’s 3 am and I’m doing my lab report.”

Sounds like a great beginning to a Taylor Swift song doesn’t it? I think so.

If you’re in first year life science, engineering or any kind of science — you will have to deal with labs. What are labs? Well, think back to Grade 11, when Rebecca Black was a thing and glee was still relevant — it’s basically the practical part of a science course where you perform experiments. It’s supposed to be fun, however most of the time, it’s a stressful exercise. From trying to finish your lab on time, to making sure you don’t blow up, to staring at your lab report at 3 AM.  Since you are told that university is synonymous with stress, you can expect that the stressful aspect of labs don’t go away.  But I have some tips to make them more awesome and suck less.

1)  Prepare early.

Although most first year courses (I can’t speak for the Engineering or Physics courses) do not require formal lab reports, they do require a fair amount of effort for a good mark. Therefore, it’s absolutely essentially that you prepare as early as you can, I’d say about a week earlier. If you’re super swamped, then two weeks earlier. You might say cool beans bro and then forget about this. Here’s Dumbledore shaking his head in shame.

Okay, now that I’ve burned that image into your neurons, pay attention.  Labs require a lot of preparation and this is not just essential for a good grade, it’s essential for you knowing what you’re doing during the lab and it’s essential that you know what you’re doing, so that you don’t dip your hands in hydrochloric acid (ie: to keep you and your classmates safe).

Labs usually have a quiz, so read over your lab manual multiple times, memorize if need be. This can be time consuming if you leave it to the last night – so don’t. Anything is testable, from theory, to procedure, to materials. Know all of it. Lab quizzes can often be a hefty part of your mark (1%-3%).

For CHM138 and CHM139 labs, you are expected to keep your notebook in order. Keep a table of contents for each lab, write neatly and prepare a prelab. Prelabs usually include an introduction to the lab, listing of materials (and the hazards associated with them), a rewritten procedure as well as any tables and calculations you may require for the lab. This also helps you study for the quiz. TAs do mark your notebooks and check them every lab, so keep them neat.

And of course, don’t leave the lab report/required assignments to the last minute. Chemistry labs usually require lab reports done on yellow sheets, whereas biology labs will give you assignments on portal due the next lab.

2) There are people in this lab, not androids nor stormtroopers

If you’re like me, you probably heard stories about people sabotaging labs and generally being mean idiots. From my experience, this is not true. It does occasionally happen though and we will reserve some choice words for those people. Don’t be one of those people; work with your partner and your group to get what needs to be done, done. Also, while focusing on the lab is of utmost importance, don’t be so tense. Feel free while you’re waiting for your beaker to cool down or your results to come to talk to your lab partner/group about whatever.  You and your lab partner/group should work together and help each other, though keep in mind that work on lab reports should be done individually. Similar lab reports will be counted as an offense of plagiarism.  You don’t want that.  And don’t sabotage other people’s labs.

3) Bring your stuff and have it ready the night before.

You will require a lab coat and lab handbook in every lab.  For chemistry labs, you will need goggles, a marker and a lab notebook. Each department will try to get you to buy it from them. In actuality, it doesn’t matter. Just make sure that you check the syllabus to ensure that what you are buying is what you need.

4) Get help if you need it. 

Contrary to popular belief, U of T does not eat its students (and for that I’m grateful). If you don’t understand something in a lab, ask your TA or email them, go to designated lab help hours and finally ask your fellow students (keep in mind the whole plagiarism thing though).

So, I survived a year of life science and labs, so you’ll probably survive as well.  Hope these tips help.


– Abdullah

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