After a full year of first-year biology and chemistry labs (major ptsd right now) and a semester in second-year biology labs , I’ve learned a couple of tips about how to be successful in these labs and general tricks to make my life as easy as possible.
Review the pre-lab carefully:
The pre-lab information/instructions are so important (I cannot stress this enough) so I carefully read through it all (even the cleanup procedures!) to familiarize myself with the pre-lab.
Not only am I going to be tested on this material (there’s usually a quiz before every lab), it makes the actual lab so much easier when I’m really familiar with the procedures.
It’s also important to know why I’m doing this lab; what is the takeaway message? What are the learning objectives? When I’m aware of why I’m doing this lab, it makes it more interesting because it will really feel like I’m getting something out of it, and not just doing the lab because I have to.
Review the course content:
Most labs correspond to the lecture content that was being taught. This makes it really important to know the lecture material too! I realized that if I’m behind on lecture content, there are some parts of the labs that I’m confused about. Reviewing the lecture notes ahead of the lab just makes the lab so much easier. In fact, most of the questions from the lab can be answered using the lecture notes. Knowing the course content allows me to make connections between the steps in the lab and what we’re learning in class, which makes things easier to remember come test time (the lab material is testable for some courses, like biology).
It’s really important to ask questions if something is unclear. In my first year, I was scared to ask questions because I thought it was assumed that I had to know everything. Thankfully, I had really nice TAs who were willing to answer any of my questions. When I’m unsure of something, I would clarify with the TA before doing the experiment. Not only does this help me feel more comfortable and confident and in what I’m doing, it’s a safety measure since it prevents me from making a mistake during the lab.
Science labs are 3 hours, which is a long time, so I may as well enjoy it! Instead of thinking of labs as a burden, I’ve come to appreciate the context of the labs. This semester, I only had labs for my BIO230 course, and I really enjoyed them! The labs were all very interesting (we dissected fruit fly ovaries!) and overall, it was a fun experience.
Science labs at U of T may feel overwhelming at first, but once I began to learn how to make the most of my labs, I found that labs are a valuable learning experience!