Our First Lab Project

25 Jan

Finding the right mix of students is challenging and I am fortunate to get such a great group of students [that were willing to join a new lab] during my first semester. They are an interested and hard working group — and they get along with each other great. They are also young (3 sophomores and 1 junior) and anxious to start a research project. How do you know when your team is ready for a project? This can be a challenging question, especially as a new faculty member. For me, I was most concerned with: 1) the student culture on research (spare time activity or priority), 2) I’ve only spent a single semester training them on various techniques (when working with infectious diseases, this is kind of a big deal), 3) research can be expensive.

They did their reading. I was immediately impressed at my labs genuine interest in our study system. From the get-go, they actively asked thoughtful questions about amphibians and disease ecology. I encouraged them to think of research areas that were most interesting to each of them and to propose research questions they might be interested in testing. Their questions were ambitious and many were beyond what we could pull off for our first project, but I loved their enthusiasm.

They pushed me to start the project. I’ve fielded more “When are we going to start…” questions this semester from them than I’ve seen students for office hours. This signals to me that they are taking ownership of the prospectus of actually doing a project. They obviously thought about it over break and probably told their friends and families.

They learned quick and mastered the basic lab techniques. In fact, two of them have actually helped me run my first two qPCR plates. My only concern under the “experience” category is that given the winter, I have yet to train them as much as I would have liked to on animal care when working with infectious agents. I don’t have enough animals to spare and I’ll just end up spending more time helping them w/ husbandry for the first part of the experiment.

As with everything my 1st semester, I’m going into this to some degree blind. I’m curious how other faculty have prepped for their 1st group lab project. How did they turn out? What did you do to turn shortcomings into teachable moments?


One Response to “Our First Lab Project”


  1. Taking Undergrads to a National Scientific Meeting | The Liberal Arts Ecologists | Small Universities. Big Ecology. - February 28, 2014

    […] But I want to take my students to a scientific meeting. We have some great early data from our first lab project and I’m lucky enough to have ample funds to travel w/ my students to a meeting this summer. […]

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