The Thoughtful Animal

As graduate students, we all invariably, at one point or another, mentor or oversee an undergraduate research assistant who is doing research in our labs either on a volunteer basis or for credit. Occasionally in the summer, they get paid to do it, if the lab has an active grant with funding for that.

In my graduate career, I’ve overseen a handful of undergrad RAs. Sometimes they were helping with general lab tasks, sometimes they were helping with my own research. When I was an undergrad, I, myself, was an undergrad RA. When I was an undergrad RA, I regularly brought snacks in to the lab to share. Sometimes they were snacks I had made at home, and sometimes they were just snacks I bought. When I was an undergrad, the grad students I was working with loved pita and hummus, but (gasp!) they were eating the gross hummus from Trader Joe’s and gross pre-packaged frozen pitas. I took it upon myself to help them understand and appreciate the wonder that is Israeli hummus with fresh pita. So several times that summer, I drove all the way to the Israeli markets to buy fresh pita and Sabra hummus (om nom nom) before coming in to the lab.

This is an important part of the grad student-undergrad RA relationship. Grad students put considerable time and effort into training the undergrad to do [insert task here] and to understand [insert project here], and we genuinely hope that we can inspire our undergraduate RAs to think seriously about graduate school in [insert field here]. We can only hope to be rewarded with delicious noms.

So, dear undergraduates, read this important message from my dear hilarious scibling Abbie of ERV:

One summer our student would always bring us cookies (real cookies. not that snickerdoodle crap). Another summer, our student was from Nepal, and she made us traditional Nepalese food (NOM!!!). This summer, I have two students. Theyve only been in the lab a week or so, but one made us chocolate chocolate-chip cupcakes (or, as we called them at 9 am, ‘chocolate chocolate-chip muffins’). The other one, his parents came to pick him up for a visit on Friday. His mom brought us this box she said was ‘desserts’.

Now, normally I would be like ‘YAAAAY!’, but this family is Taiwanese.

Asian desserts… *squint* Asian desserts arent like our desserts. One of my most traumatic memories was taking a bite of this Asian ‘dessert’ at this one picnic… I burst into tears because what I thought was a ‘chocolate filled pastry’ was really this doughy abomination filled with bean paste.

Bean paste.

So I opened this box as if it contained a pissed off cobra.

And I found like a dozen confections from a local hoity-toity bakery.


Love having summer undergrads!

The undergrads in our lab have *cough* never *cough* brought us graduate students any delicious confections or snacks. Just saying.

Oh, and, like Abbie says, please do not bring us bean paste. If you do, we will tell our PIs to write you bad letters of recommendation.


  1. #1 Rosie Redfield
    June 14, 2010

    Some of us like to nom on bean paste. Some outstanding undergrad RAs have brought me moon cakes!

  2. #2 lix
    June 14, 2010

    Oh yeah, for me those steamed buns with bean paste are AWESOME. Like lots of Asian foods they are, at the very least, a unique and exciting texture-flavor combo. Definitely worth trying even if you might not ultimately like it.

  3. #3 A
    June 14, 2010

    Are you asking your undergraduate underlings/helpers for a bribe? Shouldn’t it be your responsibility to run a coffee machine and cookie fund for your lab? And, if you have such a fund, shouldn’t it be subsidized by those with the higher salaries? (Perhaps PIs contribute more, less-paid graduate assistants less, undergraduates still less).
    And finally,(perhaps more directed at Abbie/ERV)) if someone brings you bean-paste-filled deserts, or lets say, roasted ants, shouldn’t you gratefully accept them and open-mindedly try them? (I don’t say that you need to like them).

  4. #4 nejishiki
    June 14, 2010

    I usually just pass on to Undergrad RAs the wise words of my Research Advisor:

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