You've got a $#**% Ph.D.; you should know how to do this

There are some things I think everyone with a Ph.D. in Neuroscience should know how to do. This is directed mostly at people doing neurophysiology; someone else can write a sermon for those doing molecular biology. Here's the beginning of a list:


  1. You should be able to unpack a new piece of equipment, properly install it, and read the manual so you really understand how it works
  2. You should know how to check the calibration of your amplifier and how to recalibrate it if needed
  3. You should know what every knob and switch on your amplifier does and when to adjust it
  4. You should be able to look at a schematic and understand it
  5. You should know that the air vents on your equipment are there for a purpose and not cover them
  6. You should be able to properly solder two wires together, and how to change a component on a circuit board
  7. You should know to troubleshoot noise issues and check for proper grounding


  1. You should know how to install updates to common software and the operating system
  2. You should know how to add memory or a new disk drive to your computer
  3. You should know how to back up your data, and do it often
  4. You should have more than a superficial knowledge of how your computer works
  5. You should be able to write a program in some language, or at least understand the concepts of loops, Boolean logic, and binary arithmetic
  6. You should know when it's appropriate to use a virus checker and make sure it's updated often
  7. You should know how to create a simple web page
  8. You should know how to connect to other computers in the lab when needed
  9. You should understand how email works and know how to set up the mail program on your computer
  10. You should know why using Webmail instead of a "real" email program is unwise

Data collection, analysis and presentation:

  1. You should understand sampling theory to select a reasonable sample rate and filtering corner frequency
  2. You should know how to select gains to use a reasonable proportion of the range of your ADC and DAC
  3. You should know what ADC and DAC mean and have a general idea of how they work
  4. You should understand how to calculate the scaling for ADC and DAC signals
  5. You should know how to make figures that can be read when projected (proper font size for axis legends, markers, labels, etc,)
  6. You should know that using K+ on a slide instead of K+ makes you look like an amateur
  7. You should know that showing a pixelated image shows that you don't understand resolution

Chemicals, drugs, and solutions

  1. You should know how to properly store chemicals (proper temperature, dessicated or not, etc)
  2. You should know how to measure out small volumes of chemicals and prevent contamination
  3. You should know what solvents to use for different drugs and how to assure they're really dissolved or suspended
  4. You should know how to properly buffer solutions, what acids or bases to use to adjust pH, and how to measure the osmolality of your solutions
  5. You should know how to calibrate the pH meters and osmometer

Tools and skills

  1. You should know how to choose the proper tool for a job
  2. You should know to put tools back when you're done with them (and don't mix up the metric and english allen wrenches)
  3. If you break a tool (or a drill bit) , stop by Breed's or Home Depot and get a replacement
  4. You should know about the different types of screws and bolts and when to use them
  5. You should know how to drill holes in metal, plastic, and wood
  6. You should know about drilling pilot holes
  7. You should know how to use a die to add threads to a rod or a tap to add threads to a hole
  8. You should know how to cut metal, plexiglass and wood
  9. You should know how to use the lathe and milling machine to make chambers or other items

Microscopes and micromanipulators

  1. You should know how to keep your microscope clean and properly adjusted
  2. You should know how to obtain Kohler illumination and adjust the differential contrast
  3. You should understand which optical filters are used under different circumstances
  4. You should know how to install your manipulators for maximum stability

General lab community

  1. You should accept that we work as a team and help each other as much as possible
  2. If you notice we're out of something simple (e.g., plastic containers for chemicals + dessicant), pick some up at the grocery store
  3. If you're pulling electrodes and notice the drawer holding electrode glass is in disarray, organize it; if you think drawer dividers would help, stop at Office Depot or the Container Store and get some
  4. If you think any area could be cleaned up or arranged better, take an hour and do it
  5. If email is sent to the whole lab asking for opinions, reply to the whole lab (or at the very minimum, reply to the sender)
  6. If you publish a paper, send a copy of the PDF file to everyone in the lab.