In the Lab: Student Write-Up Spaces in Higher Education

featuring Melissa Burns

August 05, 2021

students working in write-up space

As demand for interactive classrooms and laboratories increases, you might be inclined to dedicate as much space as possible to research and teaching. However, student write-up spaces – where students can write lab reports and calculate results – play an important role in increasing faculty and student interaction. 

These spaces integrate students' classroom knowledge and lab experience as they collaborate on data analysis with their peers.  

The research labs and write-up spaces at the College of Wooster are great examples, but maybe you have questions about the value of establishing dedicated student write-up spaces.

Why should I allocate student lab space? Traditionally, writing spaces have been located within research labs. But students who spend a lot of time there will often bring food and drink into wet labs, which may violate safety guidelines — if you're working with a disease in a petri dish, you don't want that near your lunch. So, pulling writing space out of the wet lab helps maintain research integrity and student safety while fostering greater collaboration.  

These write-up spaces also foster community between students in scientific disciplines. Sharing spaces gives them a chance to hang out, and faculty members might be more inclined to drop in for meaningful conversations with students, improving undergraduates' college success.

But every square foot is precious. Shouldn't every inch be dedicated to research? We get that. Our solution is to create a separate space without having to allocate unnecessary square footage.  

In the "old" days, writing spaces would've been included in the wet research lab in the form of desks or counters to perform calculations while doing experiments. Now we're pulling that space out separately – when we design research spaces, we create efficient lab spaces connected to a write-up lab. The square footage that would've gone towards an in-lab writing counter or desk is reallocated to a smaller, separate room with glass walls seamlessly joining spaces on either side. One student write-up space can serve two wet labs. No space is wasted.  

An example of a traditional lab space that combines both write-up and experimental spaces (left) and an example of EYP-designed labs and write-up spaces with reallocated square footage (right). 

What makes an ideal space? An ideal space should feature a glass veil separating the research and write-up labs, which helps students feel like they're still in the wet lab since you can see everything going on. Still, you have a physical separation for air quality and safety.  

There should be two student-centered workspaces within write-up labs, including a fixed counter or furniture allowing multiple students to work independently. The second student-centered space should be a collaborative student environment with a table and whiteboard for students to problem-solve together. It's also great to have an under-the-counter fridge so students have easy access to drinks and snacks.  

Write-up spaces provide collaborative learning environments for students to write, talk, and work through problems – bridging the gap between lunches and laboratories. 

Melissa Burns

Academic Planning & Design