Corrupting the little ones

Its summertime.

And when you work in the lab, summertime means summer undergraduate students! Theyre like any lab member-- sometimes theyre good, sometimes theyre bad, sometimes they are somewhere in between-- but no matter what, its a great opportunity for them to try out Research World and for us (grad students) to get mentoring experience.

Our summer student this year is a ton of fun! Not only has she been incredibly helpful to me in the lab, her personality meshes perfectly with our labs dynamics.

Example: Tomorrow summer undergrad has to give a presentation on her project to the other undergrads. I was going over with her why she was doing X, Y, and Z, the over all Big Picture of her project, and so on. She seemed to get it, but then she let out an exasperated sigh, "*sigh* I just dont see how the Holy Spirit fits into any of this."

Completely deadpan.



heeeeeeehehehehehehehe! Good times! Good times corrupting the little ones heeeeeehehehehehehehehehe!


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Reminds me of when I was working in the Nutrition lab. Boss was interviewing undergrads for summer work. Part of the interview was asking about future plans and how working in our lab over the summer fit into those plans. One student proclaimed that she wanted lab experience for her future Ph.D. work. The reason she wanted to get a Ph.D. in nutrition? So she could go evangelize about how eating vegan was the healthiest way to eat.

It doesn't take more than a minute of googling to get from "Abbie Smith" to this blog. Maybe you should have waited to post this after the corruption was complete?

Very cool. I wish the grad students I worked with liked me as much as you seem to like your summer student. I swear I try, but they seem to see me as little more than an annoyance/waste of space. The boss likes me just fine, but he can't make them like me, and I wouldn't ask even if he could.

Oh well. Eventually I'll prove myself, right?

Josh and laura-- Just to be clear, summer undergrad was being funny :) LOL! Shes a good kid, but shes definitely already picked up my shit-stirring gene and my grad-student sisters dry sarcasm gene (horizontal gene transfer via retroviral research. w00t! lol!) They start out so sweet an innocent... hehehehehehe!!!

kc-- Honestly, Bossman liking you is what you want. If you go into research (or med school, or whatever), he is going to be the one writing you letters of recommendation. If he sees that you are working hard and trying to contribute, youll get a good letter. Then when you chose a lab for your PhD research, you can find a place where youre a better fit, personality wise. No two labs are alike, so dont think its just 'you' :)

And screw the grad students. They might be stressed out about their own research right now, or simply not be good research mentors. Focus on picking up new lab skills you can take to new labs.

I'm actually really nervous right now, I'm starting my summer research position on monday. I'm a recent high school graduate and I'm worried that either I'll be expected to know too much or I'll be a gofer. Has anybody out there had a high schooler work in their lab and know what level they're expected to be on? Or is it all up to the boss?

The summer between high school and undergrad I worked for some honeybee researchers. Now, it was a lot of field work and not much lab work, so it might be different. Honestly, I felt like they were really stand-offish and it felt like they treated me like a waste of space.

Now I'm a grad student with undergrad helpers of my own... I feel like it's my job to show them what science is like, to try and help them figure out if it's for them, and to keep them from getting discouraged when the little crap seems to pile up.

Richbank, the only advice I can give you is if you don't know something to ask! The people in our lab that are given a hard time are the ones that race into doing things without asking questions and really knowing what they're doing. Oh! And please please be responsible--don't leave things that should be turned off on, lock doors behind you, don't take off for two hour lunch breaks.

As for lab skillz? Pretty much, if you don't ask how to do something, we assume you know how. So... make sure you ask for advice for anything you're not sure of!

Excellent, now witness the true power of the Dark Side. We have cookies. *starts talking with an Emperors Guard* Hmm... seems we're out of cookies, guess it's time to power up the Death Star instead.

By Felstatsu (not verified) on 27 Jun 2008 #permalink

Richbank, i never did lab work that early, but i did some in undergrad, basically unsupervise, and i was _very_ green when i got to grad school.

Don't be afraid to ask, don't be afraid to say you don't know something, and most people will be more than happy to help you. If someone is condescending, smile and bite your tongue and they'll probably stop once you prove you are willing to apply yourself to learn.

We've all been green and we remember how intimidating it is, but be your own advocate and speak up even if you are naturally shy. It'll pay off in the long run.

And good luck :)

Rich-- Depends on the lab. There is very little in my lab we could let an 18 year old do (liability reasons). If you were in my lab, we probably would put you on gopher work-- dishes, filling tip boxes, making solutions (which is actually kinda hard), etc.

BUT! If you proved that you were reliable and hard working, we would find real lab work for you :)

katie-- Good advice katie! Our summer undergrads just get placed wherever, whether their particular interests line up with the lab theyre in is a lottery. But I tell them 'Its 8 weeks. If you love your lab, great. But if its not your cup of tea, just be responsible so you can get a good letter and move on!' Some of our undergrads classmates are not following this advice... *sigh* Its a waste of time for everyone.

Felstatsu-- She brought us cookies. Yeah. We wanna keep her. LOL!

I'm reminded of one of Sid Schwabs last posts:

When I was chief resident one of my attendings was famously hard to wake up, and often gave meaningless instructions on the phone. One morning when he arrived I said to him, "I did what you said, Art, but I'm still not sure the leg needed removing."
He blanched considerably before he realized I was jerking his chain.

Let's just say that I would most likely not have fit in that well - in any lab ...

Hmm... well, that wrecks my use of the funny shirt about the dark side, unless she's actually more corrupt than the rest of the lab and is just hiding it. It's cool though, getting cookies is always good, and I can still take this fully operational battle station somewhere like Alderan.

By Felstatsu (not verified) on 27 Jun 2008 #permalink

Note to self: bring cookies for lab mates.

What's summertime undergrad work without a little hazing. I'd like to hear the ERV take on that...something tells me Abbie would be one to take a little bit too much enjoyment in the hazing process

OMG! OMG! an ERVlet! Another apostrophial apostate! Could ever there be world-scarier words than: "her personality fits well with our labs dynamics"?

I fully expect her to challenge Behe, Dembski, or both to a public debate by September. (Well, shes still an undergrad, so maybe itll only be Sal Cordova or Denyse O'Leary.)

And what better line for a CV (or a T-shirt) than "I scrubbed ERVs tubes!"?

By PoxyHowzes (not verified) on 27 Jun 2008 #permalink

Waitaminnit......Holy Sprit.......isn't that communion wine? We Baptists are supposed to be filled with the Holy Spirit, but instead we've had to settle for Welch's. :-P

But I'm a bad Baptist, so I just have some vino after church so I don't feel quite so deprived. Or is it depraved? :-)

By themadlolscientist (not verified) on 27 Jun 2008 #permalink

her personality meshes perfectly with our labs dynamics

Uh, and that dynamics, what would it be? Quasispecies chaos?

OTOH, bringing cookies out of the blue seems like the perfect characteristic of an erv infesting lab worker. She sounds like the perfect candidate for an Arnie Award.

[What an Arnie Award is? I dunno, ERV hasn't told us. Walking a dog?]

By Torbj�rn Lar… (not verified) on 28 Jun 2008 #permalink

An undergrad that worked in my lab for a while came in one day when I was violently expressing my displeasure to some test tubes that should have been forming crystals. He suggested I throw some aqua regia in one of them. Aqua regia? In with my precious molecules? I asked him why I would want to do that.

"You know," said he, "make an example of that tube, so the rest will know what's coming if they don't fall into line."

Tough love. I think he's going to do well in grad school.

And what better line for a CV (or a T-shirt) than "I scrubbed ERVs tubes!"?

Actually, I can see a slight variation of that as being a great nerdy pick up line.... =)


Richbank, don't worry. They'll expect you to be totally green - many incoming grad students even have little lab experience. The only difference is that they'll know a bunch of theory.

Chances are the "science" will go right over your head. Don't worry if it does. It's *hard*, and the people you're talking to are so deep in it that it's hard for them to find a way to explain it to someone without a degree in biology. That's not your fault.

Best advice? Ask for stuff to do when you're bored, do your best, NEVER BE WITHOUT A NOTEBOOK TO WRITE EVERYTHING DOWN. People will love not having to explain things twice. And yes, you'll be doing lame, boring stuff at first. If people looking after you don't seem too busy/flustered get interested in what's goign on in the lab if you get to talking about it, to do restriction digests and minipreps... it'll take a few weeks to test the lay of the land. You won't seem dumb; people will expect zero knowledge from you. If you feel like they do, they're just assholes.

You'll feel lost and underappreciated at first, but remember: you have a goal. Work in a lab, get a good letter, learn a little. Keep your eyes on that. Making a good impression is primo.