Learning Research Skills in Lab Classes

By Katie Rosen

As a student at a career-focused university like Northeastern, it can be easy to get caught up in what others are doing around you. I’m a Behavioral Neuroscience major, and I often feel like my peers in the College of Science are all so wildly successful, smart, and accomplished already that I couldn’t possibly compete with them. I don’t have any lab experience outside of my classes yet, and I sometimes find myself worrying that this is a mistake and will drastically limit my options for co-op.

However, it’s essential not to underestimate the value and importance of the skills that you learn in laboratory classes. Just because you aren’t learning about how to do research in a professor’s lab on your own time doesn’t mean that you can’t acquire some of those skills in class. I’m currently taking Techniques in Biology, and I would highly recommend this class to anyone who is looking to learn how to conduct scientific research. In this class we learn more advanced biology lab skills like PCR (polymerase chain reaction), DNA purification, gel electrophoresis, and so much more. Aside from teaching you the tools you need to get research done, this class also teaches you how to create and perform your own experiment. It’s an inquiry-based lab, so once you have practiced the major techniques that are used in the course, you come up with your own experiment. The experiment you create is based off the questions you formulate after reading a scientific paper. This is the way the scientific method works in the professional scientific community, where one research project opens up significantly more questions than it can answer. I find it so exciting to get to be a part of this in a class!

Overall, if you can get involved with a professor’s research, it is an amazing opportunity that can teach you a lot about what it actually means to be a scientist. If you haven’t had the chance to do that yet and your schedule won’t permit it, don’t worry because there are still opportunities at Northeastern to learn about how research is conducted in the scientific community.