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:
- Re-explain the project in a new way
- 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.
- 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.