Learning to Not Be Afraid to Work Independently

By: Emily Saccuzzo, OUR Peer Research Ambassador

Getting involved in research can be pretty scary. I remember my first day I was so overwhelmed with all of the different pieces of expensive equipment I didn’t know how to use. It took me a few months of shadowing to even feel confident enough to do anything by myself. So the question is, how do you know when you’re ready?

One common occurrence in our lab is pouring and loading a PAGE gel for analysis. It was something I’d seen done and done with the help of my grad student so many times by the time it came for me to do this by myself. It was a few weeks into my first semester of doing research and I was tasked with both pouring the gel and loading it completely on my own. It seems silly now how nervous I was seeing as how I’ve done it probably a hundred times since then without fail, but I remember being on the verge of shaking I was so scared to do it alone. But guess what, I did it!

Taking that first step and saying you’re ready to do something without help is really scary, and it takes a little while to get there, but it is so worth it.

Joining a research lab feels a lot scarier than just doing a lab for gen chem or some other science class. Everything automatically feels so high stakes. It can feel super scary because you don’t want to mess up or let anyone down. The big thing to remember is there’s no rush in becoming independent. And always remember; ask questions whenever you feel like you don’t know something! You’re there to learn, not to be an expert from day one.

I used to feel embarrassed when I didn’t know something. It took me almost a year to feel confident enough in myself to ever suggest my own ideas. A few weeks ago we started working with a new DNA sequence that we were doing PCR of. We noticed that the PCR yield for this particular sequence was lower than what we had previously been experiencing. It had become clear to us that this sequence was a lot more highly folded than some of the previous sequences we had worked with. I hypothesized a change in the PCR protocol that ended up increasing the yield significantly.

Changing a protocol isn’t so major and in the grand scheme of things, it hardly seems like anything. But it was the first time I was confident enough in myself to suggest something. It took me a long time to get there, and I still ask a TON of questions whenever I’m in lab, but I went from being afraid to even touch the expensive machines to being confident enough in myself as an independent researcher.

Emily Saccuzzo is a senior majoring in Chemistry and minoring in Molecular & Cell Biology. Click here to learn more about Emily.