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a wise owl

Lab-related tricks, tips, and hacks

We are always willing to learn! Please let us know if you have any lab wisdom to share!

  • ALWAYS Label everything!

  • EVERY experiment needs a positive and negative control.

  • Always proofread your emails.

  • Write down every little detail, even if you think you will remember, and you don't think you need to,

  • Vortex/ mix everything before pipetting.

  • Spin down lyophilized reagents before reconstituting. 

  • Clean your bench at the end of the experiment to ensure that everything is stored away properly. 

  • Ask questions, no matter how stupid or afraid you feel. 

  • It is okay to say "I don't know"!

  • Don't throw out essential items (eg. leftover cells or flow through/fractions of purifications) until the end of the experiment, you might still need them if you mess up. 

  • Get into the habit of making sure that liquid nitrogen tanks, fridge and freezer doors are closed after you have used them.

  • Label every reagent with the date received or prepared. That way you do not have to guess whether the reagent is still good to use.  

  • Plan your experiment and make sure to make your calculations in advance.

  • Always close tubes when disposing of them. Many experiments have been rescued from the trash.

  • Accept that failure is a part of science. Don't be hard on yourself, we have all messed up! Just learn from it!

  • Don't aim to pipette faster, just more accurately. Look at your pipette tip to make sure that you have drawn up the right amount of fluid. 

  • Don't be afraid of messing up or bad results. Be honest with your data. Only then you can troubleshoot, and often some data can be salvaged. Everybody makes mistakes and remember, unexpected results can sometime lead to unexpected findings.  

  • Always pack snacks!

Lab Techniques
  • When using tape for labeling, fold over 1/4 inch on one end. That "handle" will make it so much easier to remove the label.

  • If you need to transfer coverslips, it is easier to pick them up with a Pasteur pipette aspirator instead of forceps. Less breakage and less damage to samples cultured on coverslips!

  • When pipetting solution into several tubes, move your tubes to a different row of your rack once you have added the solution. That way you do not accidentally leave out tubes or add double the amount if you get interrupted.


  • P10, 20 and 200 tips fit onto the end of Pasteur pipettes. That way, you can quickly swap tips when vacuuming solutions if there is a risk of cross-contamination.  

  • When transforming ampicillin resistant plasmids or ligations, you can skip the the 30-60 minute incubation and plate the mix out directly onto the bacterial plate. This will not work for kanamycin resistant plasmids. 

  • Dry ice mixed with methanol can be used for snap freezing samples instead of liquid nitrogen.

  • When preparing agarose gels microwave the Agarose with only half of the TAE buffer until it is dissolved. Then add the remaining TAE buffer. No more waiting for the agarose to cool down!

  • When pouring stirred solutions, hold a larger magnetic stirrer against the glass while pouring the solution to hold the stir bar back. 

  • For solutions that are viscous and difficult/ inaccurate to pipette, eg. glycerol, Tween, prepare a 10% stock solution by weight (1ml = 1g) that you can use for easier pipetting. 

  • Write dilutions on the bottle of your stock solutions. That way, you do not need to calculate every time you use the stock.

  • When counting colonies on bacterial plates, mark the colony spots on the outside of the plate with a sharpie, so you do not lose count.

  • Use your tube rack like a washboard to break up stubborn pellets. 

  • Do not fill tubes to the rim. Leave 10% space for mixing or for the fluid to expand when freezing. 

  • When spinning down small amounts of cells, DNA, protein or other material that is hard to see place the Eppendorf tubes into the centrifuge with the hinges of the tubes facing outwards. That way you will always know where the pellet is even if you do not see it. 

Keeping Organized
  • Index your plasmids, primers, cell lines and your -80. It makes it so much easier to find reagents.  

  • In your notebook, put your experiment into context. In a year you will not remember why you did a specific experiment.

        For each experiment include:

  1.  Background and scientific question- why are you doing this experiment

  2.  Materials- list all materials​ used, include batch/ lot number

  3. ​ Experimental Layout- include a detailed protocol for the experiment

  4.  Results- show the data and analysis

  5. Conclusion

  6. Questions/ Future Experiments

  • Label your files year-month-day (eg. 2022-10-12). That way your files will always show in chronological order.

  • Create template files for procedures/ calculations often used. 

  • Keep an Excel file and include name, company, date, product number of everything you order.

  • Take pictures of reagents, procedures, etc. and stick them in your notebook. Often a picture is worth a thousand words!

  • Less is more. Keep your slides and posters simple. 

  • One paper, one message. 

And most importantly, keep your curiosity and excitement

and do not forget to have fun!

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