Do you also have this feeling somethimes?
Somehow I didnt manage anything this week.
Thats really frustrating, right?
I had this feeling quite often during my lab times.
You keep doing experiments. Some things are working, some are not working. But to see a major success it usually takes a long time. It goes step by step and very often you dont even recognize yourself what all you have done.
There is one trick that all successful people use to boost their self-confidence. Yes, they really do it. They write a success journal. Every evening you sit down and write into a little book 3 achievements of the day. It can be small like "I arrived on time for the lecture." or "I repeated the blot. The outcome was ..." But if you read this journal after 3 months it proves you how productive you actually are. And that does unknowingly change your behavior. It boosts your self-confidence. Try it out!
To convince yourself – and maybe your boss – that you are really productive you can simply write your lab book as a success journal.
That means .... you write everything, really EVERYTHING in your lab book what you have done today (scientifically).
Check out my templates that you can find under this article.
You only figure out that your lab book is really important,
- once you take over a project from a collegue who is not working in your lab anymore.
- once you want to write your Ph.D. thesis and try to figure out what kind of useful stuff you have done 5 years ago.
- once you become a group leader yourself.
And ... when did you complete your lab book the last time?
... ups, again 2 weeks ago?
Well, nobody likes to write that stupid lab book. Whenever I did not manage to complete my lab book, which happened quiet often, I wrote all kind of experimental data on single pieces of paper. After 2 weeks I collected a big pile with notes of cell numbers, antibody concentrations and calculations that I didnt understand myself anymore ...
I could not write a short note in my lab book as I did not know how much space I would need for the last 10 days. And then I wanted it to look nice but I never had time to write nicely. So, I postponed it again ... and again ...
After 2 weeks it really took me 3 hours to complete my lab book. By that time I had already forgotten most of the experimental details. Not a really smart strategy.
A digital lab book
... it will save you lots and lots of time!
You dont need any fancy software, just a word document!
Your boss doesnt allow this?
Just print your digital lab book and put it in a folder or glue it into your paper lab book.
Whats the sense of all these efforts?
It is a major advantage that you can continue writing your lab book even if you missed 2 days. Thats so much better than missing 2 weeks in the end just because you kept postponing to write your lab book day after day.
And there is one advantage that will convice EVERY boss:
Your lab book is readable!! No more smeared handwriting. Even the next 3 generations of your lab can read your lab book. Your boss will love you.
My boss in the US got really angry once he figured out that one of his former students had written her lab book in french! Maybe he should have checked that a little earlier ...
Advantages of your lab book written as a success journal
- You have a template for each kind of experiments which you just copy into your daily report and then fill it out.
- Thereby you dont have to remember every day what kind of experimental details you need to write down.
- Filling out a template at your computer is soo much faster than writing down everything by hand!
- The template „forces“ you to write down the result of each and every experiment that you do. With that system you can check and prove anytime why you have decided to do certain follow up experiments.
- Most of the time we just collect our gels or PCR data without writing down a clear result every time. If your antibody didnt work, that a result which is worth being written down as it took you a lot of time to generate this piece of data! Based on this result you can argue why you have done certain follow-up experiments, i.e. optimizing your antibody staining.
- If you dont write down clearly the results of all your experiments you might end up – in the worst case – doing the same experiment again after 1 year. Just because you dont remember yourself that you have already tried this out. (I know, that sounds so stupid ...)
- And now think about the day when you start writing your Ph.D. thesis or your next publication. Then you just take your lab book and copy all the results you have written. 1 sentence per day x 3 years! And all of a sudden you have a structure, a red line through your entire Ph.D. time!
- Under which assumption you started your experiments, which publications where the basis of your Ph.D. topic. How you optimized the methods for your project in the 1. year, how you figured out in the 2. year that your original assumption was wrong, but this let you to a new theory in the 3. year, which mechanism you figured out in the 4. year.
- With this method you will save many hours, days and weeks at the end of your Ph.D. during which you would otherwise search old experiments and try to figure out what you have actually done 3 years ago. Unfortunately, this procedure is still standard for most Ph.D. students.
- Please write down the major points of every meeting with your supervisor!! What did you talk about? What did you agree to do?
- This is important for yourself, if you wonder after 6 months what you where actually supposed to do. And it is important in case of a fight with your boss (yes, such things happen I heard!) if you want to prove your productivity to a neutral person.
- It is also a wonderful tool to prove how much you contributed to a publication from which you just flew off the author list (seems to happen too ...)
- If you show your supervisor from time to time your new way of writing your lab book, you will probably avoid many conflicts right from the beginning. If your boss knows that you exactly write down arguments and experimental plans, he will avoid conflicts with you.
- The more accurate you write your lab book the less vulnerable your are to lab conflicts. With sloppiness you just hinder yourself. A well written lab book is truely a success journal!
- It promotes your self confidence because you can read anytime what all you have achieved and figuered out in the last months.
- If you „havo to“ write down daily all these informations into your lab book, you are much more aware of many lab details. You really check the medium color and you really write down how long the blot was running.
- If you reflect your own work and keep on adjusting your microplans constantly it is much less probable that your research runs in the wrong direction month after month. A favorite reaction to unexpected data is repeating the experiment. But after the third time you should actually think over your theory.
Use your time TODAY to start writing your lab book as a success journal! And postpone the experiment that your boss really „needs“.
Do you know the movie „Die Feuerzangenbowle“?
Check it out! Its available with english subtitles.
One citation from the end of the movie: „This movie praises the school, but it is possible that the school doesnt recognize it.“ In this sense I dont want to complain about your boss. All these tipps are completely in the interest of your boss. They also dont want conflicts. They also want you to do reasonable experiments that will lead to a good publication.
If you always have good reasons why you are doing certain experiments in a certain way because you properly thought about it, you will be the super star student. Your boss will love and support you. You are coming into a positive circle of more self-confidence, better experiment planning and better cooperation with your boss. A self-fullfilling prophecy ...
Start TODAY to write your lab book as a success journal! It is more important to start even if its incomplete than to keep planning and postponing it day by day. You will grow into this!
I alredy prepared some templates for you that you can download under this article.
If you need more templates just write me what you need and I will send it to you.