What are labs? Awful three-hour block of red in your timetable starting at 9:00 am on Mondays? A torture chamber for life sciences students? Not always! Yes, labs are terrifying. Yes, they are often a lot of work. But they can also be fun if you know what you’re doing. 

I had so many questions before my first lab: What do I do during the lab? What am I supposed to do before a lab? Why is a lab worth 25 per cent of my grade? But I’m here to tell you to relax, firstyear life sciences students. All you have to do is read up on how to survive your first lab and maybe, just maybe, you’ll even enjoy it.

1. Be prepared

Do your pre-lab readings and prepare your notebook! Preparing for labs not only means that you will ace your pre-lab quiz, but it will also make the lab work feel like smooth sailing — which is the best feeling ever, trust me. You’ll thank yourself when you’re done ahead of time while everyone else is still confused and running after your teaching assistant.

2. Don’t do lab on an empty stomach and four hours of sleep

Get some sleep, caffeine, and breakfast. Imagine trying to get through a three-hour lab with a grumbling stomach and constant yawning. You’re just asking to break that watch glass, miss an observation, or forget a crucial step — and, consequently, redo your trial. Instead, be nice to yourself and go to bed!

3. Write everything down

You have a lab notebook for a reason — use it! Write down all the steps, record all reagents and materials used, observations made, and data recorded. Not only because it’s worth marks, but also because it will help you in solving your post-lab blue sheet, writing your discussion and reviewing for exams; yes, you can be tested on your labs.

4. Start early, and don’t be afraid to ask for help

Nothing is more stressful than sitting down the night before and struggling — and maybe crying — over pre-lab problems that you could have solved a week ago at your teaching assistant’s drop-in office hours. They are an awesome bunch and always willing to help, you simply have to reach out.

5. Have fun!

Very cliché, but very true. Get close to your lab partners. You don’t have to be best friends, though you absolutely can be, but say “hi” outside of the lab and work together on those pre-labs. Get to know your teaching assistant as well. They’re super involved in some really cool research in your area of study and are usually very willing to share. Connect and enjoy!