We always worry about how well we communicate safe and accurate procedures to new students. We had several new undergrads join our lab last spring, so we decided to have a concentrated session of training on a Saturday. Debbie Brock led our team into making a great booklet on teaching techniques. It always works best with our own examples, Kai and Alicia posed willingly while demonstrating some no-nos. Here is a link to our Undergraduate Lab Handout.
We began with keeping a lab notebook. I could write a whole entry on this, but here will simply say you need to write down both what you do and why you do it. Then follow it with what you think about what happened. Have a clear table of contents and numbered pages. Think of becoming famous and a historian or philosopher a hundred years from now trying to worm into your mind.
Then we talked about safety. Wash U has specific on-line preparation and quiz materials, but we like to take it much farther than that.
I suppose every research endeavor has some skills they use over and over again. For us, this starts with counting spores carefully and accurately using a hemacytometer, so we had an exercise on that. The students tried this out several times. Of course they will need to be helped through this step again before they are proficient, but it is a good start.
The next step was plating out counted spores on a fresh plate, something we do in a laminar flow hood under sterile conditions. The students need to know what volume of liquid equates to what number of spores. They also need to perfect a smooth spreading technique.
We work on a predator which needs bacteria to eat. We keep the prey from evolving by keeping it in the freezer and starting food plates from single colonies, so the students need to learn how to plate bacteria in patterns that give a single colony on the plate.
There are a bunch of ancillary techniques to these that we also taught the students. If they learn just these well, with careful sterile techniques, then they are well on their way to a successful laboratory experience. Oh, and I talked about what we fed them earlier .