Sunday, March 9, 2014

Lab Assignment Tips

After looking over your Lab 1 assignments, there are a couple general points that I think would help everyone make some improvements on future assignments:

1. Individual vs Group Assignments
For your labs (and everything else in BCBT 100), you must turn in individual assignments to receive a grade. Even if you're working with a partner (or 2) on a lab experiment, each partner is required to turn in an individual assignment for grading. This doesn't just mean 2 copies of the same assignment with a different name at the top (that would be plagiarism and could result in your expulsion from the University), but individual assignments from each partner. I expect and encourage you to discuss your experimental observations and conclusions with others in the class, and if you are working with a partner I expect that the raw data you use will be the same, but your responses to questions should be yours and in your voice

2. Complete Answers
Especially in labs, always assume that there is a "Why?" or an "Explain" part of every question. Give me an answer that shows me a little bit of your thought process. "How confident are you in the accuracy of your result?" shouldn't just be answered with "Very confident" or "Yes." {I'm not sure how "Yes" even could be an answer to that question...} If you are "very confident" in your result, there must be some reason for your confidence. And no, the answer is not "I am very confident in my result because I am just that good." An answer that would be quite convincing and give me a good indication of your thought process would be something like "The error in our repeated measurements {+/- 0.014} is quite small compared to the average of the repeated measurements {17.372}, so we are very confident in the precision of our answer." I can say with nearly 100% certainty that I will almost never ask a question that I expect to be answered with a single word. 

3. Show Your Work
Whenever you have to do any math, show at least 1 sample calculation for each step of the math you have to do. It's not always obvious there some of your numbers come from, so a little bit of help would be nice. {This is closely related to the "Complete Answers" tip above...}

4. Graphs Should Fill the Available Space
This is especially true when you're trying to fit a line to a bunch of data points by eye. If you have a half page of space for your graph, don't squeeze all the data into a little postage stamp in the corner. By spreading out the data, you will minimize the error in your line fit. Scientists devote a stunning amount of time to analyzing and trying to minimize error in their experiments; be a good scientist!

I'll post more tips as they come up. When in doubt, always ask.

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