Pain. For Free

Apr 07 2009 Published by under Uncategorized

It's the time of year where undergrad summer fellowships are being announced and I was contacted by an Employment U foundation yesterday to let me know that one of the undergraduates working in my lab has made their list of students to fund for the summer. Ordinarily this would be a good thing, but I was shocked that the student had applied to continue working in the lab because, A) Undergrad Student (UgS) appears to be going through the motions every day and seems to have no interest in what is going on in the lab, B) UgS never even told me they were applying, and C) UgS is an unmitigated disaster in the lab.

For these reasons, I have no idea what to do with this student. The complications are that this student originally came to the lab when I partnered with a diversity mentoring program in an effort to recruit diverse students to the lab and provide research experience to those who might not otherwise get it, which makes me feel a certain obligation to try harder with this student. At the same time, this is not just a case of inexperience in the lab. Everyone has mentored a student who just can't do lab work, for whatever reason and UgS is just the kind of person who doesn't get it. If one of my grad students spent a substantial amount of time with UgS for half of the summer, it might mean that UgS could perform mundane tasks in the lab unsupervised, but do we have 40 hours a week of mundane tasks and is it worth the loss of the grad student's time?

I haven't made a call on whether to take on UgS for the summer yet, but I need to by noon tomorrow. If I thought UgS really wanted to go to grad school and just needed training, I would take them in a second. However, it is pretty clear that they are just applying for the things that they are being told to apply for and not because they see it as a career-advancing opportunity. The flip side is also that the opportunity will not be available to another student who really does want it if I take UgS on for the summer. I can argue myself in circles, but in the end it comes down to whether I want to invite a giant time-sucking vacuum into the lab in the name of making every effort to promote science diversity, even if I think this particular student will not continue in science in the long-run. On this, I am conflicted.

12 responses so far

  • DamnGoodTechnician says:

    Hmm. Do I understand correctly here: UgS has been in your lab for some amount of time now, started out as a waste of space and despite your & your grad student's best efforts, remains a waste of space? This may sound harsh, but screw it - dump the loser. "Promoting diversity" is one thing, but it's another to pour time and effort into a lost cause. If someone has been given an opportunity and they are squandering it, it is not your responsibility to try to force them to succeed. At some point, this student needs to take responsibility for their own success.

  • Patchi says:

    Have you had a "what the heck do you want to do with your summer/life" with UgS? I've trained good & bad students as a grad student & postdoc and sometimes the best thing for them is to let them go. If you tell them to explore other options, they might actually find something they are good at. However, if you drag them along, the quiting later is much more painful...

  • Comrade Physioprof says:

    whether I want to invite a giant time-sucking vacuum into the labI think you just answered your question.

  • tideliar says:

    It's a simple answer really isn't it?

  • Eugenie says:

    Students like UgS are the bane of my existence. It drives me nuts when unmotivated/uninterested students get the fellowships and the students who live and breathe science get shafted.

  • Prof-like Substance says:

    I agree that the time is probably better spent advancing students who will go on in science, and UgS, from my estimation based on their work in the last few months, is not one of those students. Based on that, the best thing to do is likely to suggest that another student be provided an opportunity.

  • Anonymous says:

    I agree on the suggestion to get rid of the student. We had one exactly like this and it was probably the best thing that happened to them. Ended up realizing that they really weren't suited for that type of work, entered a brief training program after getting their B.S., and ended up with a great job at a large biotech company.

  • Professor Anonymous says:

    UgS must be premed. I wouldn't do it.

  • Mad Hatter says:

    I totally agree with everyone else. Look at it this way: as the PI, part of your responsibility is providing a good lab environment for your trainees and saddling your grad students with a "giant time-sucking vacuum" is probably not the way to do it.

  • Prof-like Substance says:

    I let the office know this morning that I was not interested in having UgS in the lab through the summer. We'll see whether that makes it harder for me to get students funded through them in the future, but I agree that the potential for disaster was far greater than the possibility of UgS surprising us all and doing good work. It was the right thing to do for this summer and hopefully in the long run as well.

  • Anonymous says:

    Good decision PLS. I wish I could find a way to get rid of my awful UgS. The plus side is that I have one fantastic UgS.

  • Prof-like Substance says:

    I also have a FANTASTIC undergrad in the lab, and she will be working with us all summer. I'm looking forward to it.

Leave a Reply