Posted by: unlikelygrad | May 28, 2009

Will work for food

FemaleScienceProfessor blogged today about the types of people who wander into her office. I commented on a type that she missed. Well, I don’t know if she gets them, but SL sure does. I know all about them because, until last month, his office was in the lab.

(Side note: The lack of office is an unfortunate side effect of working for an underfunded state university. When he finally did get an office, after being on the job for eight months, they told him it might take a year to get a phone line put in…keep in mind that the phone jack was there, they just needed to get him a phone and an extension number. He chewed them out and it got done in a month.)

Because of the office-in-lab thing, I became super aware of the number of visits he got from colleagues, students, maintenance people, etc. And there was a category of visitors that FSP didn’t mention: students–generic students, mind, not from his classes–who waltzed in, asking for a job. Has anyone else seen this happen in their lab, or is this a LocalStateU phenomenon?

These people had never met him before. They didn’t know what he did. Heck, some of them didn’t even know what department he was in. They just wanted anything that paid.

I don’t see how anyone could do this. Would you really do ANY research job you could find, as long as it paid? What if it ended up being…I don’t know, taking liver biopsies of rats or something equally horrific? What if you hated physics and you ended up working for a theoretical physicist?

SL doesn’t take just anyone. He is, as I’ve mentioned before, a theoretician specializing in thermodynamics. We’re developing tools so that anyone with half a brain could do the grunt work, but he still wants his students to understand approximately what they’re doing and why. Our “lab grunt”, Gabe, is a freshman, but he’s a freshman handpicked by SL, one who’s bright and incredibly curious.

If I were a professor, I don’t think I’d ever take a “walk-in” as an employee. I’d want to see students in action in class–how actively do they participate in discussions? Do they ask good questions that show they’re thinking beyond the lecture? Do they grasp new concepts quickly? I might take a student that a colleague recommended, but again I’d want to see them in action–by sitting in the back of my colleague’s class and observing–before I’d even consider bringing them on board.

Am I being too idealistic?

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