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What Are The Tasks That I Should Expect To Perform As A First Year Volunteering For A Wet Lab?

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Hey so I have a few questions about volunteering for a wet lab as a first year.

To give you some context, It's a neuroscience lab that experiments with C.elegans, using CRISPR to genetically engineer the organisms to carrying out human sensory functions.


So the questions:


1. I am expected to meet up with a lab coordinator for an interview. I think there's very little chance that I'd get rejected considering the conversation I had with my TA. What questions should I be expecting?


2. What tasks should I be expecting to perform in the lab? I asked my lab coordinator but received a vague reply.


3. Is it likely that they'll teach me how to utilize CRISPR/Cas9? I'm very interested

In genetic engineering and I hope to develop some ㅣab skills to join my university's iGEM team in the near future.


4. How should I dress?


5. How should I behave? I know this question sounds immature but I have no professional working experience yet so I'm anxious about how I should present myself, especially to people who are far more educated (Ph.D level) than I am. That really intimidates me :(

Should I be open and friendly like how I interact with my chem lab TA's all the while being responsible or should I be strict and professional ?


Lastly any other tips about anything?


THANKS in advance for taking your time to help out an anxious first year!

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1. Make sure you read up and have a good idea of what research the lab is doing, what methods they use, recent publications, background knowledge in the field etc. They may ask if you've had any previous research experience/what skills can you bring to the table.


2. Well what did the lab coordinator say? The way labs treat students vary, some may restrict lower year students to simply washing dishes, organizing freezers, cleaning the lab, etc. Others may pair you with a grad student and give you a mini project to do or have you take care of the C. elegant for example (never worked with those guys so I'm not sure what sort of care they require). I think your role will ultimately depend on whether or not you tell them you want to stick around. Training students to do lab techniques takes a lot of time, and if this is something you want to do short term, they may not see it worth while training you.


3. I've done Crispr in my lab and really it's as simple as doing some pipetting with small volumes, nothing too extreme there. However. making guide RNA is where the trick lies. Whether or not they teach you that will vary on the lab, and again, it would depend on whether or not you want to stay there for the long run.


4. Dress how you would dress for any interview. Business casual should suffice.


5. Just be respectful of everyone and introduce yourself politely. In my lab I'm the only one without a graduate degree and everyone is approachable and will usually answer questions if they have the time to do so. You should gauge how the senior members of the lab act, if everyone is super chill and chatty then thats likely the atmosphere of the lab and you can be like that too

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I have done work in a C. elegans lab for the past 3 years of my undergrad, so perhaps I can offer some insight.


  1. I'll second gangliocytoma's advice on reading up on recent papers that have come out of the lab. The lab coordinator isn't going to expect you to know all the details, but it's quite possible you might get a question like, "what made you interested in working with our lab?" or "so what do you know about our research" or even "so what do you know about C. elegans?" Having done some background reading will allow you to: 1) show that you are interested in learning about the lab and invested in getting the job, and 2) will help the lab coordinator to know what you already know, and what he/she needs to tell you about the work his/her lab does. I recommend Wormbook for getting some background on C. elegans (http://www.wormbook.org/chapters/www_celegansintro/celegansintro.html).
  2. If there are grad students in the lab you will probably be helping with lots of basic upkeep and maintenance work, at least to begin with. This involves things like making media (the worms live on agar plates coated with bacteria), transferring worms over to fresh plates ("picking" or "blocking") to maintain strains, and the normal cadre of lab grunt-work tasks (think dishwashing). Your level of involvement in running experiments will increase if you stay in the lab longer and learn some of the techniques, but this also depends on the lab. If the lab coordinator asks you if you have any questions, it may be a good idea to ask what sort of tasks you would be responsible for doing.
  3. Again, something to ask the lab coordinator.
  4. I'll second gangliocytoma on this one as well.
  5. Same as #4


Final tips: Anxiety is never fun, but the fact that you are anxious is a good sign - it means that you really care about this opportunity. The lab coordinator will not expect you to know everything (or even much at all), so don't fall into the trap of trying to prove yourself (i.e. if you are asked a question you don't know the answer to, just say so, and then show your interest in hearing the answer). What will be most compelling is your interest in the lab and in the research they are doing. Interested/curious students are students that work hard and stick around for a while, and that will carry weight with your interviewer. Good luck, and let us know how it goes!

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