GETTING THE MOST OUT OF YOUR LAB EXPERIENCE
Michael A. Hauser, Associate Professor of Chemistry
What equipment should you bring? Lab manual? Safety goggles? Calculator? Is pencil allowed on lab reports/notebooks?
Learn the lingo! Learn the identity and functions of the equipment. Use of the wrong glassware or equipment can affect laboratory results. Most lab manuals have an introduction section that has pictures and names of common glassware.
Preread the entire lab procedure. What is the goal of the lab? Will you need to use any new equipment or calculations that you haven't seen before? Can you save time by planning ahead or having two different portions of the experiment going at the same time?
Avoid the cookbook approach to lab work. Ask yourself WHY you are performing the assigned techniques as opposed to just blindly following instructions.
There can be a tremendous amount of commotion in a lab. There will be many students who are unfamiliar with the equipment and procedure scrambling about trying to use the same materials. Preplanning can give you the advantage of knowing what to do and when to do it. Do not hesitate to ask the instructor if you have any questions about the equipment, procedure, etc.
Learn the proper way to take and report lab measurements. Different equipment will produce results of different accuracy, and your reported measurement should reflect the accuracy of the equipment used.
Most lab manuals contain a written procedure and a data sheet. Get in the habit of working back and forth between the instructions and the data sheet. Many students abandon the written instructions and try to "go it alone" based on what the data sheet is asking for. This is a mistake since the instructions often tell you how to carry out calculations.
Many lab processes take time to occur. This "down time" should be utilized for working on other portions of the lab, working assigned problems, or getting some "one-on-one" time with your instructor. Take advantage of this informal opportunity to ask your instructor about course questions or concerns you may have.
Most labs utilize lab partners. Not only do partners help you collect data, but they also offer the opportunity for you to ask questions of each other. Peer tutoring can be useful here. If you split duties and have each partner perform a different part of the procedure, make sure that both partners still understand what has transpired. Note even though you shared data, most instructors grade the lab reports individually. It is your responsibility to have all data properly recorded and interpreted.
Work to connect the lab procedures with lecture material. Lab is to reinforce lecture and to show direct application of theory. Lab and lecture complement each other.
Although you should make your best effort to get accurate results, most instructors grade the process rather than the results. While a poor result may result in a minor grade reduction, failure to properly carry out calculations or complete the lab will result in a much more costly deduction. Your goal is to understand the process - results are secondary.
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