Most molecular and cellular biology graduate students regularly use commercial kits to conduct experiments. There is no doubt that these experiments-in-a-box make difficult, time-consuming techniques more accessible. But many worry that the gains in efficiency come with a concomitant loss of scientific intuition.
An editorial in the December issue of Nature Methods argues that preventing this loss is the joint responsibility of vendors, mentors, and students. Vendors should supply sufficient information about how kits work and what artifacts are possible. Mentors must make sure that students understand what occurs at each step in the protocol, and encourage appropriate optimization for custom uses, and students must remember to rely on their minds (rather than just their hands) to conduct experiments.
If you have ideas about how kits can be used creatively, or how to make sure kits do not stifle scientific creativity, please post your comments here.