Interdisciplinary Web-Based Teaching Laboratory Materials

Wiess School of Natural Sciences
George R. Brown School of Engineering
Rice University

Pre-lab self-assessment of skills


Developing the professional standards and laboratory skills that students need to succeed in their careers is an important part of undergraduate instruction at Rice. Being able to evaluate your level of competence in the lab is a significant mark of your professional development.

Our Lab Proficiency Scale was developed to promote self-evaluation of competency in key areas: obtaining and analyzing data, communicating information and ideas, establishing context, integrating and applying knowledge, and maintaining productive work habits and relationships.

Faculty expectations for undergraduates

Our expectations reflect the fact that many freshmen enter Rice with little formal training in laboratory work. Lab Coordinators expect students doing "A" lab work to acquire fundamental proficiency by the end of their Introductory Labs. This means students should be able to demonstrate competence across all areas that are emphasized by a course when instructions are available (Level 4). In subsequent labs, instructors expect students to enter with Level 3 and 4 competencies and then acquire more advanced and independent skills. By the completion of advanced 400-level labs (typically conducted in the junior and senior years) and/or independent study and/or engineering design projects, top students should achieve Level 2 proficiency - sufficiently deep knowledge and skill in these areas to work independently on new problems. It is rare for undergraduates to exhibit Level 1 proficiency, and many graduate students do not reach this level of expertise while doing good research.

All of the twenty skills are considered to be important or even essential to a successful professional career. If your course work does not provide you with sufficient experience in any given area, then we strongly recommend that you seek opportunities that enable you to acquire such experience.

Level 1 (greater proficiency)

I have demonstrated this kind of proficiency, even when I had to independently
identify and master new knowledge and the necessary skills to achieve results.

Level 2

I have demonstrated this kind of proficiency, even on new problems, by relying on
my existing knowledge and skills to achieve results.

Level 3

I have demonstrated this kind of proficiency by relying on my own independent
knowledge and skills to achieve results, but only when working on familiar problems.

Level 4

I have demonstrated this kind of proficiency, but only when I have clear,
explicit instructions
for how to perform.

Level 5

Demonstrating this kind of proficiency has been difficult, even when I have clear,
explicit instructions for how to perform.

Level 6 (less proficiency)

I have little or no experience in this area.

Student/course information

First name:

Last name:

Student ID #:

You need only to fill out one self-evaluation at the beginning of each semester. This PRE-LAB evaluation is for the following course(s):

Select course #1

Select course #2

Select course #3

Today's date -

Month: Day: Year:

Current academic status based upon semesters attended (not total hours) -
Freshman Sophmore Junior Senior Other, please explain below

Current intended major(s) -

Self-evaluation of skills


You are asked to complete an evaluation of your lab skills at the beginning and end of the semester's coursework. Ratings will be used to determine whether self-evaluation helps students improve their level of professional competency and their judgment of their skill levels in the key areas.
This is your pre-lab evaluation. Research indicates that for many reasons most everyone tends to exaggerate their own competencies. Try to be as accurate and honest as you can about your skills. Base your ratings on performance in situations in which you were asked to exercise or demonstrate these specific types of lab knowledge and skills. If you think you cannot realistically rate your proficiency level on an item because you have little or no experience, then rate yourself at Level 6.

Responses will be confidential and will not influence grading. If you have any questions or recommendations about this evaluation, please contact Dr. Janice Bordeaux, Associate Director of Educational Research and Assessment for the School of Engineering at:

Item A1

(greater proficiency) 1...... 2...... 3...... 4...... 5...... 6...... (less proficiency)

A1. Measurement and reporting of uncertain quantities with appropriate precision, that is, appropriate use of significant figures. For example, do you always think about significant digits when you present a measurement or perform a calculation based upon measured quantities? Have your answers always agreed with the "correct answer" in terms of significant figures?

Item A2

(greater proficiency) 1...... 2...... 3...... 4...... 5...... 6...... (less proficiency)

A2. Conversion of raw data to a physically meaningful form. Data conversion refers to the selection of appropriate units and conversion from measured quantities with arbitrary units to quantities with units that have universal significance. For example, if you read a slope from a chart you would initially measure the ratio of two distances in the x-y plane. You would convert to meaningful units by considering what the distances represent, and report the slope in SI-derived, cgs, MKS, or other universally recognized units (meters per second, micromoles consumed per minute, etc.). Do you always think carefully about what units would be most appropriate? Are you comfortable working with units, including converting units from one form to another and using prefixes?

Item A3

(greater proficiency) 1...... 2...... 3...... 4...... 5...... 6...... (less proficiency)

A3. Application of appropriate methods of analysis to raw data. Appropriate methods refers to your choice of an analytical method, such as whether or not to plot data, appropriate plot type, scale, and units, and/or choice of statistical analysis. Have you worked with quantitative data in a teaching or research lab? Have you made your own choices when deciding how to conduct routine types of data analysis? Do your instructors or mentors agree with your choices?

Item A4

(greater proficiency) 1...... 2...... 3...... 4...... 5...... 6...... (less proficiency)

A4. Correct execution of common laboratory procedures. Examples include pipetting or weighing in a chemistry or biosciences laboratory, cell transfer in a bioengineering lab, and wiring a circuit or using an oscilloscope in physics. Do such laboratory "exercises" give you fits? If you walked into a lab "cold," would you be able to carry out procedures such as those described, without instructions or retraining?

Item A5

greater proficiency) 1...... 2...... 3...... 4...... 5...... 6...... (less proficiency)

A5. Adherence to instructions on laboratory safety and recognition of hazardous situations. Have you been faced with potentially hazardous situations? Have you been corrected in a teaching or research laboratory on the basis of safety rules? Do you consciously pay attention to what others are doing and try to be courteous to others in the lab? Have you realized after the fact that something you did or could have done was potentially hazardous?

Item A6

(greater proficiency) 1...... 2...... 3...... 4...... 5...... 6...... (less proficiency)

A6. Logical troubleshooting of laboratory procedures. Examples include checking intermediate steps in a protocol, or testing a procedure with known inputs, such as using a wave generator to test a circuit or using a known protein mixture to test an assay solution. In a research or teaching lab, the last time (or times) something "didn't work," how did you approach the problem?

Item B1

(greater proficiency) 1...... 2...... 3...... 4...... 5...... 6...... (less proficiency)

B1. Maintenance of a timely, comprehensive laboratory notebook with sufficient detail to permit repeatability of experiments. Have you ever needed to document what you have done in order to be able to do it again without having to go back and figure it out all over again? When you record information do you always produce a complete record? Have you had to go back and guess at what you should have marked down? Have you been able to reaquire all of the information you need or been able to repeat a procedure using only notes that you took on an earlier date as a guide?

Item B2

(greater proficiency) 1...... 2...... 3...... 4...... 5...... 6...... (less proficiency)

B2. Effective oral communication. Are you comfortable speaking in front of a group? Do you interview well? When you have questions do you articulate them clearly and obtain the answers you need? Have you experienced situations in which a miscommunication took place because you did not use the right words?

Item B3

(greater proficiency) 1...... 2...... 3...... 4...... 5...... 6...... (less proficiency)

B3. Effective writing in appropriate style and depth. In addition to your general writing ability, consider situations in which a particular style was considered to be more appropriate than another. What kind of feedback have you received by supervisors and/or instructors with regard to writing assignments?

Item B4

(greater proficiency) 1...... 2...... 3...... 4...... 5...... 6...... (less proficiency)

B4. Effective use of the library and information sources. When you need information do you know how to find it? Can you use search indexes effectively? Are you good at collecting and organizing information for papers, projects, etc.? Can you readily distinguish between reliable sources and questionable sources?

Item C1

(greater proficiency) 1...... 2...... 3...... 4...... 5...... 6...... (less proficiency)

C1. Effective and consistent advance preparation for laboratory work. Please extend this competency to any undertaking that requires advance preparation, including course lectures. This "skill" is better described as a study habit. Are you in the habit of preparing for classroom lectures by doing the recommended reading? When reading is not assigned, do you seek resources with which to help you prepare anyway? Do you usually walk in "cold?" For teaching labs, have you consistently read up on the material before showing up?

Item C2

(greater proficiency) 1...... 2...... 3...... 4...... 5...... 6...... (less proficiency)

C2. Learning from mistakes. When your coursework is returned to you, do you look at the grade first and flie it away if you are happy with it? Do you look over comments or other forms of feedback to see how you might improve regardless of the grade? Do you always accept responsibility for your own mistakes? Think carefully about this one - have you, or do you have a tendency to, blame someone or something else, such as poorly worded instructions or test questions, or an inexperienced classroom teacher, for an unsatisfactory performance on your part?

Item C3

(greater proficiency) 1...... 2...... 3...... 4...... 5...... 6...... (less proficiency)

C3. Working independently on one's own intitiative. You won't always have a lab partner to lean on. Have you had to rely on yourself to carry out the work on a project? Did you complete the work successfully with minimal help from teaching assistants, supervisors, or fellow students? Here's a criterion on which to test yourself - in laboratory or other practical situations, how often do you find yourself asking one of your peers what you are supposed to do next? How often are you the one answering the questions?

Item C4

(greater proficiency) 1...... 2...... 3...... 4...... 5...... 6...... (less proficiency)

C4. Working effectively as part of a team. When you have worked with others, did you divide up responsibilities effectively? Have you carried your own weight and contributed to the team in some way, either as leader or follower? Are you always present when you are needed? Have you ever experienced an ineffective team situation? Have teamwork problems ever been your fault?

Item D1

(greater proficiency) 1...... 2...... 3...... 4...... 5...... 6...... (less proficiency)

D1. Recognition of the relevance of data. Are you selective about what you report when you do an experiment or provide information of any kind? On the other hand, do you typically report every bit of information you have, whether it is needed or not? For example, mechanics experiments are often conducted on surfaces that are assumed to be frictionless for practical purposes. You know that the mass of an object is frequently irrelevant to such experiments, but would you report the mass anyway, "just in case?"

Item D2

(greater proficiency) 1...... 2...... 3...... 4...... 5...... 6...... (less proficiency)

D2. Relation of laboratory work to the bigger picture, recognition of the applicability of scientific principles to real world situations, and recognition of potentially serious consequences of seemingly minor oversights. When you have conducted teaching lab experiments have you been aware of the objectives or were they a mystery to you? For example, when you performed a titration did you just go through the motions and collect the data, or did you think about the ultimate objective and critically evaluate whether or not your data would effectively contribute to that objective? Do you appreciate why experiments are conducted? Do you tend to brush off mistakes that render your results useless? For example, have you felt abused when an answer was marked as wrong for misplacing a decimal point when, after all, you did the calculation correctly?

Item D3

(greater proficiency) 1...... 2...... 3...... 4...... 5...... 6...... (less proficiency)

D3. Explanation of the scientific method, including the concepts of hypothesis and experimental controls, and why objectivity is essential. Many nonscientists think that scientists first take a position then try to "prove" it experimentally. Can you explain why such a point of view is not right? Can you describe the scientific method and/or the concept of experimental controls to a nonscientist? Do you accept explanations as truth without supporing evidence, based upon a feeling that it has to be so?

Item E1

(greater proficiency) 1...... 2...... 3...... 4...... 5...... 6...... (less proficiency)

E1. Integration and application of information and experience from math and science courses to current and future work. This is one of the most critical objectives to be met. The ability to learn something in one context and to use it in a later, different context is called "transfer of learning." On your last writing assignment, did you adhere to the "rules" for effective writing that you learned in English classes? Are you comfortable using algebra to solve practical problems, such as figuring out how to dilute a sample or how to scale down a drawing?

Item E2

(greater proficiency) 1...... 2...... 3...... 4...... 5...... 6...... (less proficiency)

E2. Application of critical thinking in the laboratory. Critical thinking in this context refers to strategic decision-making. Have you made observations in the laboratory, drawn conclusions, and acted upon those conclusions? Have you gotten the job done when the instructions didn't say what to do next? When the results did not come out as expected, did you make adjustments to the next step in the procedure?

Item E3

(greater 1...... 2...... 3...... 4...... 5...... 6...... (less proficiency)

E3. Recognition as to whether or not results and conclusions "make sense." Do you always step back and look at a result to make sure that it is "in the ball park?" For example, the velocity of flight of a bird is not reasonable if it is greater than the speed of light; the project isn't feasible if it requires a column that is five miles high; your data might be wrong if you calculate the volume of an ameoba to be five cubic meters. On the other hand, when you have finally worked out the problem and have a numerical answer, do you just turn it in and hope for partial credit? How comfortable are you with making rough estimates, on which to base the decision that a result is or is not likely to be correct?

***After submitting the form, please check the return page to ensure that there are no missing data; if you need to re-submit, you can use the browser's back button to return to the previous screen, and your answers should still be there. Thank you!***


Developed by the laboratory educators in Natural Sciences and Engineering, Rice University 11 Jul 03
(Contact: Updated 2 Sep 08