Guest blog by Adrian Chan, 2009 and 2010 SBCC alumnus
The SBCC is a huge time commitment for high school students who already have to juggle school, part-time jobs, and other extra-curricular studies. You’ll have to work out a schedule that fits both yours and the lab members’ since you will need supervision and assistance with your project. At times, it may be difficult to manage all your commitments but be assured that the SBCC experience will prove valuable to your future academic and career goals. The best thing to do is to focus on your end goal and not to worry about the small things. At times it’ll feel like you’re being pulled in many directions, but if you pause to reflect about your reason for joining the SBCC and the tremendous experience you’re gaining, you’ll be able to prioritize the things you want to do.
To prepare for my work in the university lab, my professor gave me some articles and technical manuals to read so that I can understand the science behind my project and the techniques I would be performing. This is obviously very difficult, as high school students are not exposed to this high level of scientific vocabulary and jargon, but my professor and the other lab members always helped break down the concepts for me when I was confused. They were very good at explaining the science to someone like me who only had a high school science background.
In terms of the project outline, my professor gave me the skeleton of what I would be doing so I was able to follow an organized roadmap of experiments. I remember at the beginning I had to follow along with what the other lab members were doing. The grad students did it for me first, and then I replicated it so that I could get a chance to perform it. After a while, I was confident and experienced enough to run the experiments myself so that when I got into the lab, I immediately knew what I had to do and how long it would take. This kind of freedom and independence was something that I enjoyed the most about SBCC. It helped me become a more reliable, self-sufficient person and I think these kinds of skills lend themselves to all aspects of life, not just science.
After you finish all your experiments, you’ll be faced with yet another challenge: summarizing your project for the competition! Ideally, you should be organizing your data and lab books as you work on your project so that when you’re ready to work on the poster and presentation, you have the content ready. For the poster, you can google sample PowerPoint templates (make sure you set the appropriate dimensions for printing!). Also, you can ask your supervisor or lab members for assistance, as most labs will have posters of research projects done by the people in the lab.
For the PowerPoint presentation, the best advice I can give you is to always askwhy. Why is your data like this? Why did you choose to use this technique over others? Why did you use this chemical reagent? Why did you use this particular cell line? The more questions you ask about your project, the better you’ll understand the rationale behind your project and the better you’ll be able to tackle the questions that may be asked of you by the judges (and by fellow students!).
This is your project; you should know it best so make sure you always understand the significance behind what you’re doing and what your results are telling you. Anyone can pipette samples into a tube or make buffers, but not everyone can explain why they’re doing it!