Column: Undercover academic


Lab life

Good laboratory techniques are key skills for a chemistry graduate. All chemists need an appropriate level and range of practical skills. Many of these skills are refined during final year research projects, but are traditionally introduced and developed in undergraduate teaching laboratories.

I've heard many statements regarding school practicals: of limited opportunities to conduct experiments and of teachers reluctant to supervise unruly students during lab sessions. I have insufficient data to comment on such claims but I do know that incoming undergraduate students have highly variable levels of skills and confidence in the laboratory. One goal of a chemistry degree programme must surely be to instil a basic level of practical competency in the students, but is that goal in danger of being forgotten? 

Not all chemistry graduates will make a career out of laboratory work, and so-called employability skills are vital for anyone entering the job market in the current economic situation. However, these skills must never be used to replace good laboratory skills.

Time and resources are finite but a balance must be maintained to ensure that the next generation of chemists possess the essential skills of chemistry - laboratory skills.

The Undercover academic is a university lecturer in the UK.