So how exactly do you ace the chemistry labs when you’re a bit unsure of what’s expected of you? If you’re anything like me, you’ll go into your first lab session for the week thinking “Am I going to mess up again?” or “I hope I don’t break anything this time!” Everyone has their moments of glory and of complete desperation in the labs. So here are a few things you can do (or not do) to help make the transition from lectures to labs a bit easier.
1. Read the Experimental Procedure Before the Lab
And no, the 5 minutes you spent skimming through it right before the lab definitely don’t count. This is really important. 50% of the anxiety you have is due to not knowing what you’re doing, or not knowing what to expect – so do yourself a favour. In your first year at uni you’ll see lots of stuff for the first time. This is why it’s a no brainer that you get yourself as familiar as possible with what you’re expected to know and do in the lab.
2. Don’t Carry Out Your Experimental Procedure Like a Recipe
You’re a chemist – so when you’re in a chemistry lab you’re not making your favourite meal, but performing an experiment. So try and think about what you’re doing (and why!) rather than just following steps 1, 2 and 3 from your manual.
This is extremely important. It helps your understanding of chemical concepts and pays off when it comes to writing your lab report. Nothing else helps you remember a reaction more, than doing it yourself. And if you’re not sure what’s going on, you can ask the demonstrators. They’re really helpful and happy to explain any concepts you’re struggling with.
3. Pay Attention to Risk Assessment Forms and Lab Safety Instructions
These are given for a reason. It’s always good to review them before doing an experiment. It definitely makes you feel more comfortable around the bench. Even if you think there are no potential hazards, read it again. Don’t disregard safety in the lab.
4. Yes, It’s a Chemistry Lab but DON’T Panic!
Whatever has happened really isn’t the end of the world. So you broke some glassware? First semester of second year I broke 50% of the glassware in my locker… in one session. You got absolutely no product? Big deal! Just do it again. You don’t have enough time to finish your experiment? Then just do what you can.
5. Write up Lab Reports Regularly
A lab report is worth nothing if you just scribble it down an hour before your deadline. Try and put some thought into it. I know some lab reports can seem rather long, but if you put in the effort it’s going to pay off. You might even consider looking at it this way – your marks are directly proportional to your understanding. This will help you identify any areas of weakness and allow you to work on it.
Making up results in lab reports is not the key to a good mark. If you write down what you did and what you got as a result with UNDERSTANDING you will have a good mark. And in first year, labs are not tests on a weekly basis, but a chance to perfect your practical and writing skills.
And finally, DO HAVE FUN! You’ll soon realise that labs are where Chemistry is happening and you are sitting in the very front row. It’s an exciting, intriguing and creative field to be in, so … Keep calm and love Chemistry!