Updated: Nov 17, 2020
My name is Kat and I have recently graduated from King's with a degree in Neuroscience. In my final year, I had to learn how to balance the responsibility of being the President of the Neuroscience Society, stay on top of my studies, and figure out how to write a dissertation for the first time. Below are some tips that have helped me to stay organised and achieve a high grade on my lab project.
For a lot of students, starting research lab project is equally frightening and exciting. The dissertation you are required to write is different in content and style to anything you were asked to write in your degree. Below are some tips that I found helpful when writing my dissertation.
Get in touch with your supervisor early. Once you are assigned your project, send your supervisor an email asking for a meeting before the start of the project. If they are unable to meet with you, ask for preliminary reading.
Read publications related to your project (if available) before you start. Ideally, mark the parts you don’t understand and ask for clarification. There is no point in trying to appear smart/show off in front of someone who is an expert in that area.
Regularly check in with your supervisor and always come prepared to the meetings.
Always carry a small notebook with you, during meetings and lab work. Write down EVERYTHING. One thing that really helped me, was at the end of each day going over my notes, writing down the dates and exactly what was done for example (01.01.2021 Cut spleen samples, animal’s number X, Y and Z).
Organise your study schedule around your work. If you have some space to do computer work in the lab building, work on your dissertation during the workday, in between lab work. I would advise to focus on your write up during the week, Monday-Friday and dedicate weekends to lecture revision and exam preparation.
Together with your supervisor, come up with a write up plan. You only get one draft to submit. Ask your supervisor by when ideally, they would like to see your write up done. If possible, have your complete final draft done by the end of March, leaving April for exam revision (this is if your project is in Semester B, which is the case for Neuroscience students).
Ask if you may practice your presentation in front of your supervisor or a colleague from the lab. Don’t be afraid to ask for feedback.
If possible, attend lectures and conferences during your degree, bringing your scrap notebook with you to get an idea of what a project presentation looks like.
Most importantly, be clear on what you are trying to achieve. Your project should tell a story. You should be able to explain what you did to a scientist in the same field, a colleague in your year and someone lacking science background.
Do not worry if you don’t have the perfect results. Lab work can be tricky, and you have only three months to complete your project. Aim to carry out the lab work to the best of your abilities, but if you can’t produce results or your results don’t make sense, focus on explaining this in your discussion. The write up should show that you engage mindfully with the process, rather than simply going through the motions.
Follow Kat on twitter @KasiaPlesniar