Because I forget stuff. Part of

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Originally posted September 16 2011 at 18:09 under Physics. 0 Comments. Trackbacks Disabled. Last modified: 16 September 2011 at 19:18

Note This

Doug Natelson over at Nanoscale Views makes good points on lab habits (particularly the first four points on his list). It’s sort of what I was getting at here (could have sworn I’d touched on the topic more extensively but I can find no trace…and don’t have any notes).

I still think this is one of the hardest things to convey to undergraduate science students (and, yes, probably guilty as charged myself your honour). The number of times I’ve seen undergrads present their “lab book” for examination, all very neat and tidy. When questioned they inevitably say something like “Oh, I wrote it up neatly later.” Getting them to understand that no one is going to take marks away for an untidy, scribbled on, complete with crossing out book seems impossible. I’ve always thought a useful exercise would be to something like having them try and write it up months later, or better, perhaps the first task of second year should be to repeat an early first year lab experiment with no guidance other than their own notes from doing it…

Was leaving it at that, but a couple more thoughts formed. Of course the point about backups is very important. Even more so with raw data (everything else you can at least repeat easily, or even not so easily. That data is the most precious thing).

I noticed that some of the comments to Doug’s post discuss electronic note taking. I can see the advantages but I’m not sure I’m a fan of the idea. It’s not even necessarily the file format issue that might put me off so much as where they are stored. As one who has helped rescue data from being on an almost dead medium (never mind the actual nitty gritty details of how those 1s and 0s are arranged), I’m not sure that I like the idea of the notes telling you what the data even is being all electronic as well. Paper has the advantage that its format really doesn’t change much over several hundred years at least, and it tends to hang around (actual storage lifetime of a writeable DVD anyone, even if you can find something to read it in ten years?)

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This Crazy Fool

Dr Ian Scott
Croydon (and Gateshead), United Kingdom
Bullding Services Engineer (EngDesign), PhD in Physics (University of York), football fanatic (Newcastle United), open source enthusiast (mainly Mozilla)

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