The following are some thoughts, mostly from Chong, about how to start conducting research and performing experiments. Everyone can have his own style for sure, but the following are what Chong may expect from you.
- Make good use of lab notebook. The big VWR 200-page lab notebook is a reasonable choice. We shall have it in the lab for you to pick up (otherwise notify the person in charge of office supply). Recording the experiments that you performed is the most basic and essential requirements for research. You might find such a practice rewarding in your career. Nobody can recall the details of an experiment performed a year ago. You may need the recorded recipe to train others. People (including Chong) may question the reproducibility of your experimental results. If you are lucky (or unlucky) enough you will need it for legal cases (e.g. the case about CRISPR patents). And last, it can be fun. In one Christmas party, one graduate student who shall not be named presented the photocopy of the thick and heavy lab notebooks as a Christmas gift for his Ph.D. advisor. A heavy-weighted gift.
- Read literature, old and new ones. You cannot change the world if you do not know how the whole world looks like. Newly published papers update your the latest research progress in the field. The reported progress can help you design your own experiments, while sometimes they may also sadly bring the news that your ideas are scooped (but at least you know you are scooped). Feedly and email alerts in Google Scholar are two useful resources to keep you updated. Additionally, do not underestimate the impact of these old papers. The interests in scientific research community ebb and wane chronically, so what you thought is a novel and less touched topic may have been studied before. You do not want to learn this through the reviewers’ comments when you submit your paper. Last, one common complaint among faculties including Chong is that students do not search literature actively and wait for their PI to provide the papers for them to read. PIs are not supposed to babysit you. We provide comments and suggestions, but it is you that own your research project and strive to earn a Ph.D. degree.
- Independent but collaborative. You are supposed to demonstrate your independent research capability that is worth a Ph.D. degree. At the same time, you are not expected to build an edifice alone. So ask yourself: what are the core expertise that you have or plan to have by the end of Ph.D. degree? What are the peripheral ones that you know them but you are not confident enough to explore alone? Keep these two questions in mind will help you define yourselves and establish a sustainable collaboration. Sometimes these two answers will evolve. Chong has never thought about dealing with bacteria when he was admitted as a physical chemistry Ph.D. student. Your PI will push you to explore your limits and hopefully, you will enjoy the process.
- Hardworking, the eternal recipe. I think everyone agrees that we value meritocracy. You are not entitled to a Ph.D. degree. Remember, Chem-is-try (still, at least for now). PIs will help you to get it by providing suggestions, but you need to try and do as many experiments as you can within a reasonable time frame. If things do not work out as you planned, you should discuss with Chong and he will try his best to help you. But this does not mean you can stop trying. Life is not easy, but never stop trying.