— Elijah Blank
When I first came into the Trimmer lab at the start of my PREP experience, I felt like I did not know anything. It was an overwhelming experience to be sure. Now, as I am leaving, I have learned how to execute new assays, navigate the lab space and design experiments. All of this has helped prepare me for the similar process at the start of graduate school. In this blog I want to offer the pieces of advice I would give myself if I were starting this year over again.
Literature! I cannot overemphasize the importance of reading up on relevant literature. I think the most difficult parts of this are the steep learning curve, and the challenge of knowing where to start. As far as knowing where to start goes, I got my best advice from talking to my mentor and the more senior members of the lab. These people have a much deeper understanding of the field and were able to offer resources to answer questions I did not even know I had. Additionally, it is possible to pick up on important literature in lab meetings or talks. It took me too long to realize that could really deepen my understanding of a topic by reading some of the papers cited in a talk or a confusing paper.
Set clear goals! With so much information to keep in mind it is easy to feel as though you are drowning in questions and facts. In order to stay productive, it is important to managing your time and expectations. One of the greatest challenges for me was keeping both the higher level and the details in mind. For each project, I found it helpful to write down the Big Idea (if you are not too sure what that is, start with something, you can refine it over time). To keep the details straight each day I like to make a small list of 3-5 achievable goals. Plan them in advance, follow up on how you did after. If something was too challenging, next time, make the instructions more detailed, if something took too long, account for it next time. If something was easy, you might have time to add 1 more to your list next time. Keeping track of your goals and accomplishments is important in this kind of environment. Without so much structure to keep yourself accountable, you need to create your own structure so you don’t overdo it.