Thursday, June 24, 2010

How do you want 'em taught?

OK, let's say that you are a PI or other important person in a lab in a Major Research U/Inst. And let's say your new grad student is from my institution, let's say they did their project in MY lab.

I try to get my research done in a successful way, i.e. headed toward publication. But the entire PURPOSE of my lab is to teach undergrads how to do science with the added bonus of getting them on papers, hopefully. Nobody's gonna cure cancer from my lab (anymore).

We had another failure of a prep today. When you suspect a wonky (cheap) reagent, I expect that you just make that reagent again and try the prep over. Student wanted to design an experiment to test whether the reagent truly WAS wonky. While my lab training didn't jibe with that, I though about it and decided to let his initiative be rewarded. If his experiment works, we will know that the reagent wasn't good, but won't know why. But I do want him to get good at designing and conducting and experiment and interpreting the data. Here was a cheap, short way to do so. But I don't think a post-doc would ever do this.

Am I teaching him to take unnecessary rabbit trails and developing bad habits, or am I really going to hone his experimental skills? What would you, as a PI, want in your student?


  1. I'm a post-doc, and I do quick and dirty experiments to determine if reagents are wonky all the damn time. It is a stupendously useful skill. I don't really care *why* the reagent is wonky most of the time...I just want to *which* of the bajillion potentially wonky reagents is the one that is making my actual experiment go pear-shaped so I can throw it out and replace it with good reagent. You're teaching him to troubleshoot. Ain't nothin' wrong with that.

  2. It sounds like your student will be a good scientist. We should all do this rather than blindly replacing reagents - we just hope that it will be faster to skip the experiment.

  3. As a (new) PI at a MRU. I would LOVE it if more students had some experience thinking about experiments AND knew how to troubleshoot an experiment. In my experience (here and as a postdoc) students that come from small liberal arts schools tend to be better at this. Keep up the good work!