So when I took AP Chemistry and AP Biology in high school, my favorite part of the class was usually the laboratory part. I remember we would usually do a combination of lectures and labs throughout the week, and I think this is where I really developed my love of science. Favorite chem lab? Our final lab where we were assigned mystery compounds and had to figure out what they were (and it was a competition to guess the correct cation and anion). Favorite bio lab? Dissections (I got a dogfish… basically, a shark)! Man, I miss high school lab/lectures.
Anyway, college labs are a little bit different. The way I have seen it, we typically have lecture three times a week (for 50 minutes each), then a lab section once a week (about 3 hours long). Usually the labs do not last the full time, but today my OChem lab today did. I have taken at least one lab class every semester I have been here, but that’s probably because I’m a Chemical Engineering major, so I have a lot of science classes. So you get the option in your schedule to arrange your labs and lectures however you want to. Most semesters, I’ve put my labs on Tuesday and Thursday evenings, because I usually have a class in the mornings. However, this is my first semester that I’ve crammed two labs on Tuesdays, so I basically have no class on Thursdays! Sounds pretty awful, but it’s been the best decision I’ve made this semester. Having a relaxing day in college can be pretty common, but a chill Thursday is certainly a useful addition to my schedule. All of my homework for my classes is due on Friday, so I essentially have a whole day to finish up my assignments. It’s just… perfect.
Okay but back to college labs: it took me awhile to really figure out how to maximize my learning experience in lab. So here’s some tips for how I spend my time in lab – which usually means getting out early!
- Figure out exactly what you are doing beforehand. It sounds so simple and obvious, but you would be surprised how many people don’t do this. Many times, you will have to complete a “prelab” where you write out the procedure (or for Physics, you do a prelab quiz that tests your knowledge of the procedure). But sometimes, if I’m just copying words down verbatim, I’m not really understanding what is going on. I have to make an effort to really figure out the procedure. Look at the glassware list, and double check that you know what all the equipment is. Check and see if you need a hot water bath in the procedure (because you should start these when you get to lab…water takes a looooong time to boil when it’s on a hotplate). See what technology you are using and see if you are familiar with the program (I’ve spent a majority of a lab just figuring out how to use DataStudio). Make sure you know the safety procedure for each chemical (like if it needs to be use in a fume hood).
- Collaborate! I’m not saying that you should share data or anything, but often times, many parts of the experiment don’t need to be done individually. For example, if you need to add 5 drops of ice-water to a recrystallization solution, team up with some people and use the same ice-water bath. If everyone is working with acetic anhydride, it’s okay to pour a little into a beaker and share with one or two people, instead of all crowding around the solvent bottle. Basically, you can cut down a lot of time in lab just by communicating with others around you and all figuring out the optimal way to finish the lab.
- Ask your TA if you have even the slightest problem. They are usually very helpful in figuring things out. It had been awhile since I had assembled a Buchner funnel apparatus, so I just asked my TA if she could help me and she walked me through the steps of assembling it. Even asking them about what exactly is happening with each reaction can be helpful when you do your lab report later.
That’s it for now! And, of course, congrats to all the admitted students who will be on campus for Explore! Here’s a picture of me at Explore two years ago: