80/20 Rule

How to divide up work between research and grunt work that has to be done around the laboratory?  I use the 80/20 rule when thinking how to assign work to an undergraduate.  80% of what they do should be research and 20% should be helping out the laboratory and cleaning up.   I also use the 80/20 for myself.  There are some exceptions to the rule, when our laboratory was moving everyone was participating in grunt work so the 80/20 rule didn’t apply.   I find that this rule keeps things in balance.  Undergraduates are their to learn research skills.  It is also important they learn how to be a good lab-mate. .  The laboratory can be kept clean with 20% of their time dedicated to cleaning up after themselves and helping out in out areas such as running an acid/base bath for the group.

If you find yourself in a situation where an undergraduate is having a hard time with a project instead of just giving them grunt work you can do the following things:

  1.  Re-explain the project in a new way
  2. If there is flexibility in your laboratory maybe try them out on a new project.  We all have different skill sets.  Or maybe simplify what they are doing on the project they are working on if you can.
  3. Ask your advisor, a postdoc or another graduate student to explain the project to them.  It doesn’t mean you explain the project poorly.  Sometimes things click better when someone else explains the project.

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