How to train your Summer Student or Intern

We have already talked about how annoying some behaviors are when working at the lab, but there is something very important behind those behaviors: where did they learn to work (or not) like that.

I don't know how it works on your lab, but in my institute we sometimes have students that come for just one trimester, they are doing their bachelor studies and they get this great opportunity to see what working in the lab really is. Often PIs think of them as an extra pair of hands to work on a project, but it is important to remember that most of the time they have 0 experience and hence they must be trained properly.

The way you teach these students to work is what will (hopefully) stick to them. So let's discuss:

1. Teach them to work like you would like people around you to work.

Every time someone works without a lab coat and that bothers you, every time someone doesn't clean the transferring machine, think of the fact that they might not know better. Maybe they come from a lab where there was someone cleaning up after them. So, when the intern, summer student, etc, shows up, teach him to work in a way that would work with any team. No one will ever complain if the bench is "too" clean, or if all of the reagents are stored in the proper way.

2. Teach them to have an up to date lab book

I don't write on my notebook everyday; there are days where I can hardly manage to eat! But I have a day planner and I keep notes. The moment I have a bit of time down I pass everything to my notebook. The notebook doesn't have to be pretty. It has to be complete. This might seem like a little and non important thing to make emphasis when having a student, but think of that time you had to look for something on someone else's notebook and couldn't find anything. Wasn't it frustrating? Well, there you go.

3. Teach them the WHOLE protocol and the principle behind it.

As time passes by and you get more comfortable with a certain protocol you might discover shortcuts. This might work for you, but when teaching a protocol to someone for the first time it is extremely important that the person learns ALL the steps and then eventually learn the parts that can be played with (washes for example). To do this it is also very important that you explain the principle behind a protocol: why do you block with BSA? Why do you wash, etc? And this off course includes explaining what reagent A does. The amount of people that I have met that only know to add A to B, but have no idea that one is a lysis agent and the other stops the lysis (for example) is ridiculous.

4. Teach them to care for the lab

This implies caring about equipment, about the usage of the reagents in the proper way (storage at a certain temperature, if needs to be sterile, etc.) and about not wasting stuff. With the amount of cuts that a lot of universities are seeing all over the world this is extremely relevant guys. Recently a student left a secondary antibody that is supposed to be stored at 4 degrees, for almost a week on the bench. We received this antibody less than 2 months before, and it was practically untouched...and yet we have to order a new one. It might seem like a little thing, but these type situations add up and waste is never a good thing.

5. Teach them to be conscious of their work.

To keep all the proper controls, to know what they are looking for, to ask the right questions.

6. Teach them that they are not alone in the lab.

In very rare cases, you will not be the sole student of a lab, unless it is just starting or closing. But most of the time you will be sharing the space and reagents. Teach them to not just think of themselves while at the same time, prioritizing their project. It is nice to have help, but not at the expense of the project advancing.

7. Let them work

All theory won't do anything if they never actually learn how to use a pipette, to make a gel, etc. Off course you won't give them the last experiment of your article that you don't want to risk. But they can always do an extra gel, with extra samples. An extra control never hurt anybody. They are not in the lab to just rack tips of empty the trash cans. Not even to just read articles! They are there to learn how to work on a lab, so show them!

What else can you think off?

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