5 tips to Catalyze Success in the lab

The New Year offers an excellent opportunity to approach your personal and professional goals with a fresh perspective. While you are resetting from holiday festivities, you might be making New Year’s resolutions to be healthier, be more organized or productive, or meet particular scientific milestones. Regardless of what your goals are for the year, it is critical to construct a systematic plan with defined metrics for success. Here are five tips for getting a solid scientific start to 2018.

1. De-clutter your bench.

It is much easier to execute an experiment efficiently and successfully when your bench is organized and free of clutter. Now is as good of a time as ever to go through the reagents on your bench, in your fridge, or in your freezer and get rid of anything that has expired, contains precipitation, or is otherwise unusable. Perhaps you possess buffers or enzymes that you seldom use that might be more valuable to one of your lab mates. Also, try to make a habit of cleaning and reorganizing your bench before leaving the lab at the end of each day. Having to clean up yesterday’s mess will slow down your progress and distract you from achieving today’s goals. Moreover, leaving biological waste and other reagents out on your bench can invite bacteria and other contaminants to invade your bench-space and potentially your experiments, which can easily be avoided by adhering to a regular cleaning routine.

2. Maintain an organized lab notebook.

Another important habit to build into your lab routine that will boost your scientific productivity is taking accurate and detailed notes on your experiments. Often, we try to fit in as much activity at the bench as humanly possible in a day that it becomes easy to forego taking the time to write down what exactly we did. However, recording details about how each step of the protocol was executed and which reagents were used will facilitate troubleshooting and reproducibility later down the road. Also, there are now electronic lab notebooks (ELNs) available that enable efficient, organized, and elegant note taking that are easy to adopt and incorporate into your routine. For more information on ELNs, click here.

3. Make commitments, not resolutions.

If you’re like most ambitious people, as the holidays were running their course, you likely drafted a list of New Year’s resolutions for 2018. Chances are you’ve broken at least one of them already. Instead of simply resolving to do a laundry list of things, you are better positioned for success by making no more than a few commitments. To maximize happiness, make at least one commitment to cultivating a healthy habit outside the lab. For instance, maybe you’re aiming to exercise more, eat healthier, spend more time with friends and family, or simply to get ‘enough’ sleep. Any habit that you develop to promote your well-being will enhance your ability and motivation to achieve professional success.

4. Set actionable and quantifiable goals.

Once you have decided on what key personal and professional goals you aim to accomplish in 2018, make sure you also formulate a clear plan of action and method of holding yourself accountable. Measuring your progress requires that you have set quantifiable goals. For example, instead of striving to “read more papers,” commit to reading at least 3 relevant scientific articles per week. If your goal is to publish a paper, set deadlines for when you will complete your experiments, analyze the data, make figures, and write the first draft. Creating a spreadsheet or setting calendar reminders can also help you keep up with your commitments. If you don’t make all of your deadlines or meet every single goal, instead of giving up, it’s important that you consistently evaluate your progress and determine how you can improve on the things you set out to achieve.

5. Talk to your adviser about your plans.

Your PI’s primary role should be to guide and empower you to achieve your career dreams. Once you have created a clear vision of what you aim to accomplish, how you will accomplish it, and by when you will succeed, you should discuss your plans with your mentor to get his or her feedback. With your PI on board, achieving your scientific goals will be much more attainable with his or her expertise and support. Importantly, communicating openly, honestly, and often with your mentor will not only help you succeed while in the lab, but will also lay the foundation for a supportive relationship throughout your career.

Best of luck in achieving your dreams in 2018!