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Five Alternatives to Cancelled Laboratory Projects

By Joe O'Brien, on 19 May 2020

Read time: 3 minutes

Written by Glyn Jones, Careers Consultant at UCL Careers.

Given the current situation, you may find yourself in a position where you’re unable to conduct a laboratory based project or placement as initially intended. It may be disappointing to miss out on this opportunity but there are some options that will still provide you with experiences that will help with your future job hunt within the science sector.

  1. Gain virtual lab experience

You might not be able to work on your pipetting in person but there are programmes out there that enable you to experience a virtual laboratory experience. Companies such as Labster offer hundreds of different lab based simulations, providing an introduction as well as detailed explanation of experimental laboratory techniques. The simulations offer 3D virtual images and storytelling illustrations, links to further information and built-in tests so you can check your level of understanding.

Alternatively, there are other companies that offer virtual experiences on preparing and analysing the results of laboratory experiments such as Learning Science. You can find upcoming free training webinars, which anyone can sign up to attend from the Francis Crick Institute. These cover some basic laboratory techniques that may be of interest.

Familiarising yourself with these processes, even if in a virtual environment, will equip you with valuable experiences for  when the time comes that we are safely able to return to working in laboratories. Unfortunately not all these services are accessible to individuals, with group / course licenses required to access some of these resources. If you are not able to access these at the moment there are plenty of other ways to upskill at this time.

  1. Conduct your own desk research

An integral first step of conducting your own research is knowing what is already being done in the field. By carrying out your own desk research you’ll be able to demonstrate your understanding of a topic outside the core academic content. The easiest way of conducting this desk research is through looking at the latest publications on this subject. Websites such as PubMed, ResearchGate and UCL IRIS enable you to find out the latest research in a given field.

Once you’ve carried out desk research, collating this information and presenting it in a clear way can be a way of showing your understanding. Depending on the communication skills you want to develop you may wish to present your findings in the form of a literature review, an essential skill for anybody conducting research. Alternatively, you may wish to focus more on developing your science communication skills and present the information you’ve acquired in the form of a scientific blog. This could be for an established blog such as UCL’s Kinesis Magazine, UCL Pi or you could even set up your own.

Whichever way you decide to present your information you’ll be able to find guides on how to produce these online, for example ‘How to write a literature review’ on Scribbr, Science journal’s article on ‘How to keep up with scientific literature’ or this post by Nature on ‘Why science blogging still matters’.

  1. Upskill using online courses

Although wet laboratory projects will currently be on hold, dry lab research and data analysis may still be a viable option for you from your own home. Given the current circumstances, many education providers are offering free courses, making this a perfect time to upskill and learn some new techniques. Our previous blog post on 10 Free Digital Resources to Upskill Yourself from Home highlights some of these providers.

Whether you’re interested in learning how to code, conduct data analysis or learning a new programming language such as Python, education providers Code Academy, Google Digital Garage and Springboard offer courses on these topics.

Alternatively if learning about antibiotic resistance, environmental sustainability or the fundamentals of immunology is of more interest to you, be sure to take a look at websites such as Future Learn, Coursera, Alison and edx to view the full range of courses they have on offer.

Being proactive and learning new skills or gaining knowledge about a new area of science is a great way of showing your passion for science as well as demonstrating your innovation.

  1. Keep up to date with the latest scientific talks

An alternative way of gaining expertise on a particular topic is to engage with talks and webinars that are being delivered on the topic. A number of organisations may be running such webinars, which are a great way of engaging with new scientific content. Even if live events have already taken place, recordings are often made available afterwards. Scientific journals such as New Scientist, Nature Research and Science all offer such webinars, as well as institutions such as Imperial College London, Inside Scientific and the Academy of Medical Sciences YouTube channel.

It’s also worth looking into the scientific talks and resources from learned societies. These may focus on a particular area of science, such as the British Society for Immunology’s recent webinar series on Covid-19, the British Ecology Society’s Ecology Live series of webinars or the Physiological Societies webinar programme to enhance your career. These are just a selection of some of the resources we’ve found, but be sure to search further and make the most of any online resources that suit your interests.

  1. Grow your network

Finally, you may wish to enhance your scientific network and reach out to those working in the field that interests you. Platforms such as LinkedIn and UCL’s Online Alumni Community are great ways of contacting those working in your field of interest. Through reaching out and having conversations with these individuals, you’ll gain insights into the work they do, have a source of relevant advice and grow your network. This can prove invaluable at a later date when it comes to job hunting.

This is a selection of some ideas for proactive projects you could be pursuing from home, however it is not an exhaustive list. Hopefully this provides some inspiration for you if your laboratory placement has not gone ahead as planned. UCL Careers is still open and delivering our services online, so be sure to get in touch or book an appointment if we can be of any further assistance.

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