Sunday, March 8, 2009


Historically, my advisor has had a small lab. Usually only four or five students with various undergrad assistants as needed.

For the (almost) two years that I have been in the lab, it has been only three graduate students - myself as the n00b, and two PhD students. (We also have a research assistant who works with us, and has his own complement of grad students, but they answer to him first and not my advisor.) It has been quite useful for me to be able to observe two senior graduate students, and I am fortunate that they are both patient and open with me.

But now they are both planning to graduate this year - one this June, and the other by the end of the summer.

I have begun to take on some of the duties of a senior grad student this semester. The safety duties have fallen to me (lead contact with the safety guys, making sure all chemicals have proper handling and disposal and storage, attending the required safety training courses). My advisor asked me to take point on running lab tours during Open House weekend in April, where prospective grad students come around to tour the lab. I have gotten my own purchasing card, so I am in charge of ordering not only my own equipment but also consumables for the lab (petri dishs, lab gloves, chemicals, wipes, etc.).

It's also evident in the treatment I am getting at meetings with my advisor. I am getting less direct guidance (although I never needed handholding, really), more expectation of independent initiative and ideas. Last summer, when a bunch of grad students collaborated on a project called "Microfactory" I was one of the newest students, and the other two PhD students in my lab took more of an aggressive role in the project. This summer we are doing microfactory II, (UFac II as it is being called) and this time around I have a lot more responsibility.

I saw this coming after the first semester I was here - I knew that the older two would be graduating around the same time, and I viewed this time with apprehension. I had no idea what I was doing, and I was scared to think I would have to run the lab.

But now I feel ready for this. I know much better how things are run, what's in the random junk drawer, what's hidden on the bottom shelf in the back closet, and what that old piece of equipment under the tarp is used for (answer - nothing, it used to be useful but advisor for some unexplainable reason won't get rid of it). I've tried to learn as much as I can during these years, to know the proceedures for everything we do (although I still have no idea how to run the electroplating bath. It's green. It's acid. I stay away.). I feel like I can honestly handle being the most senior grad student.

But still - they are leaving me! And I haven't heard a peep about hiring new students. It won't be hard to hold down the fort if I'm the only one it it....

So I am curious - does the advisor usually discuss hiring new students with the current students? I know when I was looking at labs, I had the chance to talk to both of the PhD students. So I know if any new students were looking at the lab, I'd probably get to meet them.

I suspect that's what this Open House weekend in April is about - this is where it is likely interested students would show up. A-ha! Maybe that's why I am running the lab tour...

We shall see how things shake out in the fall. New students coming in so Miss Outlier doesn't feel like the new kid anymore? Or Miss Outlier receiving way more attention than she wants from an advisor with only one student?

1 comment:

  1. Over here in NZ you don’t really have a say in who joins the group. They talk to the supervisor they’re interested in and if they like the group they join up.

    I’m kinda in the same situation- Because the group only got started this year I’m the senior student in my group despite being in my last year of masters (as opposed to a final year PhD student or a post doc). So I’ve got all the stuff that goes along with it- looking after students, the ordering forms, etc. I just view it as a good opportunity to show I can deal with the extra responsibility and all that kinda thing :)