Lab partners matter

In the chemistry undergraduate labs, you will eventually have to find a lab partner. This is the person who could make or break your 3-hour session every other week for the entire term. I’ve had both good and bad lab partners and I want to explain how to be an amazing undergrad chemist; oh, and how to go home early.

1)    On the first day, come early to your lab. You’ll find a group of students by the door waiting around like you. This is an excellent time to talk to other people and get a feel for how each person talks and acts. If you talk to someone and you get a feeling that you won’t work well together, make a note of it. Find someone that puts you at ease, because labs can get stressful fast.

2)    Read and plan ahead for your lab. This sounds obvious, but most people just make their lab outline and call it a day. Text your lab partner and figure out who is going to do each step. You don’t need two people to clean glassware, so have someone get the chemicals while the other prepares the apparatus.

3)    Be efficient in the lab. I didn’t really get this until my organic chemistry labs in second year. Find as many timesavers as you can. A saved minute here or there really adds up. You will have extra time to fix mistakes and maybe even leave early.

4)    Excess materials make for great time savers. If you need a volume of water in a reaction but you find out that it only serves to suspend your product, then don’t worry about getting too much. Don’t spend a minute agonizing over 1 mL; in first year labs it won’t affect your reaction unless it is a limiting reagent or has been clearly pointed out by the lab instructor. It is important to be accurate but being overly precise to the point of wasting time is unnecessary. 

I would say that being prepared is all you need to be a good lab partner but that just isn’t true. My worst lab partner was the most prepared guy I’ve ever met. He just spent too much time over little details, like overwashing old beakers. He never really understood the experiments and I had an “off” feeling of him from the beginning. My advice becomes this: trust your instinct when choosing a partner and don’t fret in your labs. Plan to become a lab partner to remember — it will help you in the long run.