Relationships in a Lab

Laboratory & Research Advice

Relationships in a Lab


Research happens in lab, so chances are a research student spends most of his or her time there, and interacts with inanimate objects: samples, equipment, or software. This is true beyond the sciences: researchers are mostly solitary. However, even though there are few people around, relationships with them are key to a successful and fulfilling research experience, and to prepare you for the next step. Coworkers are an invaluable source of support and knowledge, and your supervisor will likely be writing you a recommendation letter. The recommendation will be a big help in your next step, but your relationships are more than that. There are three things you can demonstrate for success: respect, maturity, and willingness to help. Here are a few things that might help expressing those qualities:


  • Do work and solve problems that you find fulfilling. It makes it easier for you to bring something you could enjoy into work, music, an activity perhaps. You can think of the lab as your makeshift home - you are improving it both for others and for yourself. Build joy around yourself, help people out, but only genuinely. This will make you the person you yourself would want to be around, and people will notice. If they do not - you grow happier anyway. Leave that place better than you found it.
  • Think for yourself. People who think stand out. You may be the most junior person in a lab, but you can always think. Thinking brings you to the same level as everyone else, even if the hierarchy may be intimidating. If you think, and if you think together with someone, they can have an interesting conversation with you. People, especially professors, will notice if you surprise them.
  • Attempt problems yourself before asking questions, both in theory and practice. This may be counter-intuitive, and time-consuming, but builds depth of knowledge and independence through experience. You are also likely to add value to your questions in the eyes of others if you only ask important ones.