My favorite part of life in the lab comes at the start of every day, when I get to flip to a fresh page in my lab notebook. I’ve always loved recording things, so you can imagine my excitement when I got my very own super-official-looking lab notebook, with its pristine black hardcover and exactly 100 pages of green-lined graph paper, each blank page promising a new scientific adventure.
My lab notebook has become home to protocols, experimental set-ups, data, and observations. More importantly, it has become a way for me to reflect on the successes and failures of my experiments. While each day is inevitably different from the last, my days in the lab–like the pages of my lab notebook–follow a similar pattern.
Objective. Each page of my lab notebook begins with a few notes on my goals for the day, which I discuss with my mentor, Hailey, first thing in the morning. It’s often easy for me to get lost just doing the motions–pipetting and running gels while losing sight of the big picture. Setting clear goals at the beginning of each day has become an important anchor for me this summer, a way to remind myself of how each experiment contributes to the goal of my overall project.
Protocol. In the “Protocol” sections of my lab notebook, I record exactly what I do throughout an experiment, whether that’s setting up a PCR or transforming E. coli. Sometimes, this part of my day consists of pipetting until my hand starts to cramp up. Other times, it consists of setting up a gel and holding my breath as the computer loads the image of my gel to reveal the success or failure of a day’s work.
Results. Here I include observations or pictures describing the results of my experiments. Sometimes with sad face doodles, other times with an excessive number of exclamation points. At the end of each day, Hailey and I discuss our results and what they mean; we troubleshoot and plan for the next day.
Despite the loose structure of every day, I love the dynamic nature of life in the lab. I love that I don’t always know what my week will look like, because each experiment depends on the results of the last. I love the anticipation of walking into each day not knowing whether my experiment will work or not. And from that anticipation, I learn to value my failed experiments as much as my successful ones–each have equally important places in my notebook.