Friday, May 15, 2009

My Very Own Undergrad

It is customary at World's Best School for the undergrads to hold at least one if not several research jobs over their undergrad years. Technically it's not required, but if one person has three research experiences listed on their resumes and you have none, you have just put yourself behind the curve. And people here are nothing if not overachievers. Plus, it does pay some money, so many times undergrads will make research jobs their summer internships.

This works out great for the graduate student population. The grad population at large views these undergrads as minimum wage hired help. So from the undergrad's point of view, this is supposed to be an opportunity to apply the knowledge learned in class, expand your skill set, and contribute important work to the field of whatever research you are doing. From the grad student's point of view, the undergrads are there to do the busy or tedious work that the grad student doesn't want to spend time on.

The happiest medium comes when a grad student has a "side project." This is a project that is, first and foremost, not directly related to the grad student's path to graduation. Nothing worse than a bad undergrad holding up your diploma. This ideal project is also bite-sized, a chunk big enough to accomplish in a few months (semester or summer). Finally, this project has potential for design or creativity from the undergrad, not just running of simple pre-determined experiments.

With a project like this, undergrad is happy and grad student is happy. Undergrad can write a bachelor's thesis, and grad student has interesting results on something that they were curious about. If a paper comes out of the whole thing, then even the PI is happy. Life is good all around.

I am finally far enough along in my graduate career that I have not one but two projects like this in mind, and my labmates have some as well. However, both labmates happen to be moving next week. (One of those life coincidences - one is having a baby and needs more room, and one is graduating, and both ended up in housing limbo at the same time.)

So all the undergrads that have applied to our posting about research positions would like to be interviewed next week, because they want to finalize their summer plans.

So here we go - Miss Outlier is interviewing and hiring her very own undergrad, plus one or two more for the other labmates. I've never done this before, so I'm a bit nervous. Which is silly, I'm the interviewer! But the other labmates have said they will trust my judgement and take them "sight-unseen" as it were, so I'd like not to mess this up.

I could have a lot of fun with this, ("So, undergrad, you have no idea what a mill and lathe are? Perfect!") but I will restrain myself...

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