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Why being part of a lab group is important (to me!)

I first became a member of SASHLab in 2014 when I was a research assistant in the UL Psychology Department during my undergrad co-op placement, working with Prof Stephen Gallagher. Four years later, I am still a member of SASHLab, in the third year of my PhD, and conducting similar research to what I first starting doing back in my co-op days. What has that to do with the title of this blog, you might ask? Because back then I never planned on pursuing a career in research or academia, and I certainly hadn’t planned on doing a PhD; being part of a lab group, especially SASHLab, changed that for me.

I realised my presumptions of lab-based research were (somewhat) wrong: research doesn’t have to be isolating. What I learned from being a member of a lab group has been invaluable to me, not only in terms of knowledge or research, but experience: in the second year of my undergrad I got the opportunity to present at a conference in the UK, sit on an organising committee of a national conference held in UL, talk to academics and PhD students about their experiences, and get a background into what life is like after the undergrad... Without being part of this lab group, I would never have had these opportunities.

Then, it was important because it helped me decide what path to take, but now, it is still as important as ever. We have bi-monthly meetings where we can ask questions, read topical papers, get feedback on journal submissions (sure the paper has already gone through the peer-review process, can’t you just publish it already?!), brainstorm new ideas, and practice conference presentations. You have a group of people with similar interests who will be attending the same conferences as you (which can make that experience less daunting for some), who can introduce you to others in the field to help build your own network, who can work with you in the lab to make data collection easier, who you can collaborate with, and most importantly, who will support and advise you.

That’s not to say that everything is always rosy. There might be times where your writing or presentation gets critiqued and that’s disheartening (been there, done that- but in the long run it was good for me!), or you might not agree on certain topics, or sometimes it might even be more work than you anticipated, but at the end of the day, I think the benefits far outweigh the (few) costs.

Because I had been part of this group since early in my undergrad, I took for granted all of the benefits and opportunities associated with being part of a lab group. So, one thing I would say is, regardless of whether you are an undergrad, postgrad, academic, researcher, or whatever it may be, if you’re contemplating whether or not to join that lab group that’s in your university, do it. Setting aside one hour every two weeks is not much time in comparison to the benefits that are gained from it. As clichéd as is sounds, being part of a lab group

changed my life- I probably wouldn’t be still here doing this PhD if I didn’t!

Our PhD students enjoying a night out in Galway #SashLabOnTour

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