1. Message to students

If you are about to choose a lab for your thesis (bachelor, master, and Ph.D.), you might want to know what you can expect from our lab and what I expect from you. We work on the development of a model system that mimics the biological membrane. The basic idea is to fabricate a lipid bilayer with embedded proteins on a solid substrate so that we can simulate certain functions of the biological membrane and measure them. Our research is highly interdisciplinary, spanning from biochemistry to nanotechnology. Our projects are all collaboration with other research groups, so that we can combine the expertise from different disciplines. Therefore, what you can expect from our lab is many-facetted, exciting research that is interdisciplinary and highly collaborative. You may not directly benefit in your future jobs from the experimental skills that you acquire in our lab. They may be far too specialized. But what you really learn from the research experience is how to find problems (that have never been known), fix them, and sell the solutions, all in collaboration with other people. This is what you are going to do in your carrier whatever path you choose. From my side, I expect from you enthusiasm in what you are working on, positive thinking, a habit of asking questions, communicative and cooperative attitudes, and the strong will to find your own way. I can imagine that you do not have all of them for now. I am certainly willing to help you to acquire them during your time in our lab.

2. What do we learn from the research at a university lab

Nowadays, it is common to conduct research in a lab for some time in the undergraduate and graduate courses as an integral part of the education. But the objective of this research experience may not be so obvious. We can actually learn a lot of things from the research, not only experimental skills or specialized knowledge, if we are aware of the opportunities that are offered. Research is a highly complex activity, requiring a lot of background knowledge, infrastructure, planning, and execution of experiments to obtain new knowledge or techniques. The objective of the research itself is to find or make something new and useful for the mankind, which nobody else has attained so far. To this end, you need to explore an unknown territory of the research fields. However, it is obviously not easy to find an unknown territory of a research field that is worth exploring. The PIs in the research labs have basically found out some potentially interesting and unexplored research territories in the research fields. A graduate or undergraduate student can try to explore the territory for some years (or months). Since the research activity is many-facetted and creative, one can acquire general abilities to think, including how to find problems, plan and execute experiments to fix them, and sell the solution as a published paper. One can also learn how to collaborate with other people. These general abilities are what you are supposed to learn in your research a university lab. Therefore, I recommend you to choose a research group that is trying to explore a visionary and challenging research territories, and work hard while you are there. Your experience in a research lab can have immense impact on your career, because you develop there the fundamental attitudes towards the way you think and work in the future.

3. Importance of basic techniques

We are all striving to obtain good results from our experiments. To this end, I suppose that you are working very hard, running many experiments. But, I would like to remind you that the quality of your experiments depends very much on your basic experimental skills. In our experiments, we need to go through terribly large number of steps to reach the results. Therefore, even small errors in each step can accumulate and drastically change the outcome of the experiments. Sometimes it may ruin the results, but in a worse case we go on without noticing the errors to obtain some false or contradicting results. There are basically three things we can do to avoid or minimize the experimental errors. First, we can make a documented protocol for the established routine experiments to clarify the experimental procedures, conditions, and potential problems. Second, we should be careful about all the details of the experiments such as calibrating the pH meter or cleaning a scoopula for weighing chemicals, because the devils are in the details. Third, we should document the experimental procedures, results, and observations, so that we can check them later and share them with the colleagues. If the whole procedure becomes more complex, one needs to be more careful about individual experimental steps, so that one will reach the final product of the experiments, i.e. results, and learn something from the experiments.