Get Out of the Lab!

Dr. Richard Behringer, Department of Genetics
G&D 2011 Newsletter

Graduate students probably think that their mentors want them in the lab 24/7, slaving at the bench, generating data. Unrealistic, but this is probably your mentor’s fantasy of how their lab should operate. While an unrealistic fantasy, it is very true that to be successful as a research scientist, a student must put in long hours of training in the lab. However, as the old saying goes, all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy. Students who are only doing research in the lab are missing out on a very important aspect of their training, namely interactions with other scientists, exchanging ideas and information, and receiving feedback. Science is a very social enterprise. What are the avenues for obtaining this important aspect of your training outside of the lab?

Present at Meetings

You should present your results as a poster or short platform talk at a local, national, or international research conference perhaps once a year. Prominent research meetings include Gordon Conferences, FASEB Meetings, Keystone Symposia, and professional society meetings (e.g. American Society for Cell Biology, American Association for Cancer Research, etc.). In addition to poster sessions, many meetings choose short platform talks from the abstracts. You might be chosen! It’s a great opportunity for other scientists to meet you. These research conferences facilitate meeting scientists in your field, hearing about current unpublished results and letting people know about your results. It’s a great opportunity for feedback on your research. In addition, many conferences have technical workshops or satellite symposia on a focused topic attached to the primary conference that you can also attend.


“I am back from CSH. It was awesome!”

Aundrietta Duncan (Barton lab) after taking the Eukaryotic Gene Expression course 
at Cold Spring Harbor Lab last year.


Attend Courses

Attending a course on a specialized topic at one of the prominent laboratories in America or elsewhere can be career changing. You will meet graduate students, postdocs, and PIs from around the world and many times make lifelong friendships. In addition, these courses usually have very prominent scientists as guest speakers. The typically informal atmosphere of these courses facilitates learning and interactions. These courses provide you with protected time to fully concentrate on learning new techniques, information, and ideas. After these courses you will be energized to apply what you have learned to your own research back home. Some courses are less than a week-long, others can be many weeks. You might say: I can’t afford to be away from the lab and my family for so long. If you do the math, the time you spend away from the lab learning in a course compared to your total time in graduate school is less than 1%. The dividends earned from these courses will surely compensate for any time away from the bench. Time away from family can be tough but the investment in your career will benefit your family in the long run, compensating for a few weeks of inconvenience. So actively think about your research career beyond the bench and get out of the lab, at least once in a while.


Dr. Behringer is a former course director at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory (Molecular Embryology of the Mouse) and is a current course director at Marine Biological Laboratory (Embryology: Concepts and Techniques in Modern Developmental Biology).


Some Course Offerings

Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory, NY


Marine Biological Laboratory, MA


European Molecular Biology Laboratory, Heidelberg


Jackson Laboratory, ME


These specialized courses are announced through professional societies and journals. Many times fellowships are available from these courses to support your participation.

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