The atmosphere in a research lab is completely different to the day-to-day activities of being a student.
In a university there is a clear hierarchy and lines of authority. There are clearly defined boundaries of roles and responsibilities. As students we are under the guidance and leadership of our lecturers and whilst this is a fantastic way to learn and to pass on knowledge there is a limited opportunity of sustained intellectual interaction and discussions.
In contrast, the atmosphere and working interactions in a research lab is very unique, offering a more equal and a liberal feel.
In the lab everyone is working towards the same overall goal, this creates a collaborative network of people pitching in ideas to the benefit of everyone’s research. The five of us in the research lab all attend each other’s lab meetings and whilst these may not be discussing your project (at the time), it creates an environment of positivity and support.
Throughout the summer I have attended lab meetings to discuss my research, other’s research and have been able to participate in giving feedback on upcoming talks or presentations.
I was asked to chair a lab meeting to discuss my own research. Initially I was very nervous as they know a lot more about my topic than I do, however everyone was chipping in and saying that they could help me with this part or that, or help me with the structure of the talk, what needs to be covered, etc. The encouragement that I received made me feel a lot more comfortable and confident with the idea of presenting research to a panel of professionals.
What is really exciting is that even as a summer intern I am performing experiments at the level that the post-doctoral and PhD researcher is doing, and my contribution is equal to theirs (it just happens for a shorter length of time).
Yes, this all sounds very love and light and wishy-washy, but good research these days tend to involve collaboration. There are few cases of lone geniuses working long hours in the lab and creating a new theory and turning scientific dogma upside-down. The idea of a lone genius is mythological and highly unlikely within the sciences. Those that claim to be a lone genius tend to ignore the contributions of lab technicians, research assistants and others that made their findings possible. Nobel prizes are shared between different research labs that worked on the same topic in different areas of the globe (for example the large hadron collider at CERN). And whilst collaboration may not always be needed for scientific advancement, it is a great advantage to have the synergy of a network of people to contribute and participate in joined up thinking and thus capitalise on the diversity of experience and intellect.
During my summer project in the research lab I have developed my ability to work with the different personalities in an environment of professionals and full-time researchers. This opportunity has provided me an invaluable insight and awareness of the working relationships that I will be developing after completing my studies.
I would like to thank Dr Ferrier for being an excellent, supportive and encouraging supervisor during this research project; Dr Sogabe for managing my constant questions as well as the support in the lab; the Laidlaw Scholars team and of course Lord Laidlaw.