By Rosie, Chemistry
College of Engineering and Physical Sciences, University of Birmingham
As a Chemist, I spend a lot of time in the CTL. CTL stands for ‘Collaborative Teaching Laboratory’ and it’s a £45 million pound state-of-the-art facility.
Labs are a fundamental part of the Chemistry course: they are a way of bringing the Chemistry to life, applying your knowledge and developing valuable skills for industry. In Year 1, you spend one day a week in the lab; in Year 2, experiments span two days and these are timetabled every other week.
I remember finding labs quite daunting in my first year: the big, swanky new CTL can feel a bit intimidating and I was always worrying about mixing reactants in the wrong order, missing a step, something exploding or breaking a piece of apparatus. I think confidence in the lab comes with time: I always used to wait for someone else to put their head over the parapet and start before I launched in.
Before labs you have to complete a ‘pre-lab’: this often involves reading about the experiment you are going to perform, watching some videos demonstrating how to use equipment and answering some quiz questions to check your understanding. After an experiment, you have to complete a ‘post-lab’: this is a write-up of your experiment, documenting all your data and graphs. ‘Post-labs’ count toward your overall lab grade for the year so my advice is not to dash these off and really try your best with them – use the demonstrators and academics, they are there to help you!
Experiments are often in groups of two, three or four but can also be individually undertaken. Sometimes this can be quite nice if you just want to plod at your own pace. I prefer group work in labs, especially if you get to choose your teammates! Labs can be a great time to catch-up, especially if you’re waiting for a three hour reflux – they are often made by the company you keep and five o’clock comes around a lot quicker!
I think we are trained at secondary school that we need to stick our hand up and ask a teacher before doing anything but this is totally not how University works! It’s all about taking responsibility for yourself. Not having to ask a senior person to go to the loo or to go outside to catch some fresh air took me a while to get used to.
A top tip for success in the lab is to claim a seat if you see one! Labs are often long days – made worse by two things: having to stand the whole time, and forgetting your locker code and having to wait for a porter to help you.
This year, I have really started to find my flow with labs – I used to dread the long lab days but now I’ve come to rather enjoy them. I think the more you resist laboratory work and get frustrated with how long it takes or get upset if something goes awry, the less you will get out of lab days.
I should also say that the CTL is more than just a set of fantastic labs. It is also a favourite spot for students who want to grab a coffee or sandwich (great café!), it can be a very tranquil place to revise, there are lots of comfy seats and cosy corners to loll around and chat with friends and there are lots of computer rooms – it’s a great hub on campus.