Kirsop Labs

Skills development for science students everywhere

Making the most of second year labs

Tutorials, labs, and lectures can quickly build up as the academic year progresses and things get more intense.

Labs are 30% of your final chemistry 2 marks, so it’s important that you take them seriously.

As a third year student, I can now look back at my experiences and clearly identify what has worked and what I could have done better.

Here’s my guide to making the most out of your second-year labs:

Prepare for your lab session

If you roll up at 9 am with absolutely no clue what you’re doing that day, then the likelihood is that you aren’t going to perform at your best. Set aside some time every week to take a good look at what you’re going to be doing to get the best out of your sessions. Sometimes a mandatory prelab is required, but try to look at it as a learning opportunity. If there’s anything you don’t understand, write it down and ask a demonstrator when you arrive. Personally, I prefer to write up the experimental section of my reports before the practical because this means I’m much more aware of the procedure, and if there’s anything that’s not clear I can ask my questions before beginning the lab work.

Don’t ignore your lab notebook

Your lab notebook should be your best friend throughout the year. Keep your layout as neat as possible so that if you need to refer to a particular section, it’s clear and easy to follow. Start off by writing the date, the experiment number and title and then the procedure. Also, include the list of reactants and their associated hazards. As you complete the experiment, note down any observations like colour change, phase change or effervescence. Don’t forget to keep your index page up to date as you can lose marks for that – I got stung by that one myself.

The demonstrators are there to help

In your first year, you get acclimatised to having one demonstrator who you know and who knows you. So it can seem a little intimidating when you start year 2 and suddenly don’t have an assigned demonstrator. Take the time to learn their names and don’t be afraid to approach them with any questions you have. Don’t worry about having a ‘stupid’ question. As an old proverb says, ‘he who asks a question is a fool for five minutes, he who does not remains a fool forever.’

Be proactive about feedback you get

When you get a marked report back, read through the feedback and work out how you can improve on it to get better marks. If there’s any comments that you don’t understand then approach a demonstrator and discuss it with them. Doing this gives you the best chance possible of getting a better mark on your next report. They all add up!

Don’t forget to breathe

This experience is likely to be the first opportunity you’ve had to conduct an experiment entirely on your own. With no lab partner to rely on, you’re on your own… but relax, you’ve got this! Now it’s your chance to take responsibility for your practical skills, and over the course of the year, you’ll certainly develop your lab techniques. This independence will give you the skills you need for the rest of your degree and whatever you choose to do afterwards.

Second-year labs will take up a lot of your time, but they’re a great opportunity to brush up your skills and fine tune your report writing. Just remember to keep your cool, ask for help when you need it, and you’ll get there.

If you’d like to write for KirsopLabs, drop us a line (see Contacts page) and we’ll help you get started.

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