Tuesday, March 29, 2016

The Unseen Merits of Meticulousness (Or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Extra Lab Time)

"Let's hurry up man, I'm trying to go home."
Around the fourth straight day saying that, I realized I didn't really mean it.

You see, 20.109 is a unique instructional lab experience. We learn the basics of laboratory work, right down to the details. Our class of about 10 students is split into groups of two for the entire semester. That means you better hope you work well with your lab partner because you’re stuck with him or her for good, no take-backs.
Or these guys, whatever their names were.

We got things done and we worked extremely well together. And yet, we were also the slowest group.

I remember many days where the Part 3 of our protocol happened at the same time as most other groups’ Part 4. There were a few days where we were the last group to be done. Even after old friend, named "5:20pm hunger" would pay a visit, and my ex-SO "distracted exhaustion" reared its all-too-familiar and ugly head, we would still be there tooling around with pipet tips and eppendorf tubes.

At first, it bothered me. After all, I’m a guy with things to do. I had a schedule to maintain. But I picked up a two things about 20.109 that changed my perspective, and the true rewards associated with embracing “lab overtime."

Ice cream sundae not included!

Primarily, all laboratory experiments require large blocks of time. That's just the way it works and we were blessed that we only needed to do a piece of the whole effort during our limited class time. I found this out by mentally piecing together all the behind-the-scenes tasks performed by the 20.109 teaching staff. Buffers need to be made. Cells need to be grown and suspended. If you wanted to do every single incubation step, electrophoresis, and solution preparation into 8 hours a week, you would need time-stopping magic. Which is beyond the scope of this course.    

Secondly, I came to realize that all of our slowness was really from our attention to detail. Our experimental procedures were simply deliberate. My lab partner asked every question he could about the underlying rationale behind each step. We double checked our solution mixtures. Triple checked our calculations. I know now that if it were purely up to me, I would have made many more rookie mistakes just by trying to save time. And nothing wastes more time than redoing a botched trial. Asking questions and taking our time with steps helped me avoid mistakes in experimental practice and in communication. 

As a result of our judicious meticulousness, we prepared contamination-free results with some of the tightest linear fits absolutely ever. What more could you ask for?

I took home the following pro-tips from Module 1 of 20.109.
  1. Revise. 
  2. Edit.
  3. Ask around.
  4. Maybe practice your presentations (like, once can’t hurt).  
      and of course,
  1. Stick a while longer, because “staying late” is just a state of mind.

- Jordan S


  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. All the love and yours meticulously,
    Your meticulous lab partner, Saleem! <3