Expeirmental Design etc.


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Experimental Design and Other Aspects of Life

Just some thoughts to keep you going when you're up late doing those experiments. These may help you get through those years of experiments and research - tips compiled from various wise folks.


  • Don't give up a chance to meet the big-name scientists. They are well known for their work, so they can give you good advice and help. They can also hook you up with the right people.
  • Remember that even the youngest undergrad and the most senile professors may have good ideas, so don't just brush them off, even if you hate them. At the same time, smart, likable people may be stubborn and sometimes wrong.
  • Don't give up so easily. Be patient, but work harder as well as smarter.
  • Your supervisor and colleagues are human. They have moods and feelings. They have bad and good days. They have a life outside the lab.
  • Read books. Sometimes they can be worth dozens of articles.
  • Get a school telephone account number. It's usually cheaper.
  • Protect yourself, your ideas, and your data. If you don't trust someone, don't collaborate with them.
  • Keep a lab notebook, and date it (with the year). Always write something down about what you've done.
  • Arrange your thesis proposal meeting as early as possible.
  • Look out for toxic lab dynamics.
  • As Bill Dreyer mentioned, using all the information and previous experimental results you currently have, make a best guess. Then follow it up.
  • Ask other people, even (and sometimes especially) those who know nothing about your work, for a new perspective.
  • Work out your experiments on paper first. It will save you time and frustration later.
  • Don't forget to do controls. All of them.
  • Don't be afraid to try new technologies or go outside your field for help. But remember that occasionally the long hard route is necessary.
  • Keep the big picture in mind. Why are you doing this?
  • Brainstorm on anything and everything. Bounce new ideas off someone you can talk with freely - let them keep you honest and excited about your work.
  • Keep up with the literature (sit in the library one day a month). Call or write the authors if you want to discuss something. You can make and use these contacts.
  • When faced with a tough problem, do what Einstein did. Pretend you have any imaginable (or imaginary) tool at hand, then tackle the problem. What steps would you take to solve the problem? Then you can either find such a tool, wait for someone to think of it, or make it yourself.
  • Pass along this information to the next year's students.


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updated 6/30/99