I got the idea for this post from a recent conversation that I happened to have while ordering some DNA from a famous California-based company. Just as a quick background, it is now possible to routinely order genes encoding for interesting proteins and other DNA parts at an affordable price. I could speak about this in more detail in future posts, but for the time being suffice it to say that to design DNA parts is easy in theory, but tricky in practice. In fact, what the majority of people fail to realize is how easy it can be to incur in silly mistakes. I, therefore, always take all the time I need to check and re-check the design because I believe that planning in science is everything. This is for me now routine, but as my “friend” at the DNA synthesis company confirmed, there are still many scientists out there that (and I quote) “prefer to pass a month in the lab than one day with the thinking cap on”.
My point here is that this is true, not only for DNA design and synthesis but for all things in research! From my personal experience, I always found that planning dramatically increases the chances of success in an experiment, while also decreasing unwanted accidents.
A well planned experiment means that you will enter in the lab with confidence, knowing what you are going to do, knowing your reagents and how to safely handle them and in which order you will need to perform your tasks. Furthermore, if an experiment fails, but It is well planned, it is much easier to pinpoint what the possible cause of the failure could be.
I would like to share with you a few tips that I found to be very useful throughout the years and that, I believe, contribute to making me a much more efficient scientist.
- Always sit down and do some literature research before starting an experiment. It is very likely that somebody did something similar before, and you can learn from their experience.
- Plan your experiment on paper. Now that you read about somebody else’s research you might feel like jumping straight away in the lab and get going with your work because, let’s be honest, the “publish or perish” thing is really a strong drive. Wrong! Sit down and write your experiment ON PAPER, step by step. In this way, you are giving yourself a chance to re-think your plan again, and you can catch your potential mistakes on time.
- Now that you wrote things down, try to play your plan in your head, as if it were a movie. Think about what you will be doing step by step. This will help you concentrate (and no, it is not a waste of time! The speed of your thoughts is high, you will be done in 5 minutes).
- Now that you have planned everything, you will also be more aware of what things you need to perform the experiment. If you can, try to gather and prepare all the reagents, solutions, equipment and other material ahead of time. It will save you an enormous amount of time, and It will avoid stress and panic when you need that particular reagent, but “hey! Where is it? I swear I left it on that shelf!”. Remember that you are not alone in the lab and planning will also make the cohabitation with your laboratory colleagues much easier.
I hope that these few tips can be useful. Do try them out. I promise that, for as simple as they can seem, they will be of great help!