Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Exploiting my undergrads...

I have two undergrads working with me this semester.  Both are returning, one is doing this for credit, one for the "experience."  I have them both working on a subset of my bigger project (basically the rudimentary molecular biology) and it works nicely since they come in on different, but consecutive days, so the one can finish up what the other started. 

The problem, well OK, not problem, but the issue is that a lot of the stuff they do is "hurry-up-and-wait" type of experiments.  Set up the PCR, wait three hours, add some water and go home.  I have told them that they can sit in the lab and do homework and things like that (as long as they can stomach/don't complain about the music--I cannot work in complete and utter silence-my brain doesn't function that way). 

Last semester and in the semesters before I have prided myself on not pawning off menial tasks to my undergrads, as in doing my dishes, racking boxes of tips I have gone through, making up some stock buffers.  And then, it came to me, that doing some of these things is part of the whole lab "experience."  There are days that I have to do all the catch-up work (autoclaving kill bags, pouring plates, making buffers and media, etc.) on the things that I use.  Since I am extremely lucky to be the only one doing what I do in my lab group of 3, I am the only one who uses the media, buffers, etc. so if something is out, it is my fault and I need to make it.

I was even a little shocked a year back when one of our former students was making his undergrad rack tip box after tip box or make buffers for him while he was sitting on his ass, stuffing his face with chips and watching TV on Hulu.  It pissed me off, actually, since he was a lazy bastard and then had the balls to complain about (a) how is undergrad never takes it upon himself to do these things without him telling him to and (b) how his undergrad keeps screwing up buffers, etc.

But, I guess I look at having the undergrads in the lab a little different now.  I want them to maybe not "master" the techniques that we use, but get more of a general academic research lab background.  Things like knowing how to make media, or do a mini-prep or run a Ni2+-column.  Things that will help them if they go to grad school or are a tech or anything along those lines.  And, I guess part of that is just lab up-keep.  I realized yesterday and today that having my undergrads make up the 20 L growth culture, or racking tips or making media is not exploiting them at all, and in fact rather than doing homework, they wanted to do all the putzy shit in the lab that I have let fall to the wayside (I do that sometimes--get wrapped up in the data, forget to do everything else).  It's not exploiting them if they are willing, is it? I will have to admit, though, I haven't made them do my dishes yet.  I have a hard enough time getting them to do their own....

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