Saturday, January 13, 2007

Surviving Lab

Ah the good old lab classes. Who doesn’t enjoy spending three hours in utter confusion about what they are doing, only to get smacked down with an obnoxious “write-up” due every week. Oh yea, and coming in on your own time to go over everything you couldn’t finish- which is usually a lot. Who doesn’t enjoy a good practical from time to time? To top it off, it is worth a whopping ONE credit.

Yes, for the most part, labs suck. I still have nightmares from some of the chem labs although biology isn’t much better. The key is to be realistic and prioritize. If you need to choose between spending 3 hours studying phylum specimens and studying 3 hours for your next big lecture exam, study for the exam. The lecture class is generally worth three credits. Also, in most labs, you can get a B/B+ quite easily by simply showing up and doing minimal work on all the assignments. However, getting that ‘A’ is almost impossible unless you really put in a TON of effort. If you can manage, more power to you, but just remember, one credit is less than three so don’t blow off the lecture class for lab crap.

Horribly confused? Don’t sweat, almost everyone is. The only advice I really have is to read the lab book before lab. Go over what you will be doing even if it makes no sense. The less time you spend reading during the actual lab time, the faster you can get the hell out of there.

Be careful! A friend of mine got really sick after a chemistry lab because he didn’t have the hood door down far enough. Someone accidentally got stabbed with a needle while trying to anesthetize a rat. The list goes on. Don’t count on regular student TAs to be of any help. They are just as confused as you, and will always ramble – “what does the manual say?” if you ask a question. There are exceptions, but don’t get your hopes up.

Some of the upper level bio labs are ridiculous. I just finished a physio course that required a 5-6 page paper every week for every lab. That is a lot of work for one measly credit.

Don’t even get me started on physics labs, they are interesting, but things never work right and you end up spending more time figuring out what piece of equipment is malfunctioning than you do observing any cool phenomena.

I am sure some people really like labs because of the ‘hands-on’ experience. Like I said, the idea is great, but most teachers just don’t have the resources or are too ‘old-school’ to realize how useless most labs are for learning. Want good hands-on experience? Start up your own research project or assist a professor with his.

The bottom line is that labs generally are a pain in the ass. BUT, they are part of the pre-requisites to entering dental school, so you can’t completely blow them off. Just remember that they are only worth 1 credit in comparison to the three or four that most lectures provide. Do the math, if you have to sacrifice a lab grade to beef up your lecture percentage – DO IT.