Resistance is Futile

You will be assimilated.*

Our lab has acquired two new undergrads for (at least) the summer months. If they work out well, then they'll have the option to come back for the fall semester. (I like to think of this as the "lease with an option to buy" plan.) Today, I'm planning what I'll do tomorrow with the New One. That got me to thinking about assimilation (not only because I think that Science is somewhat like the Borg), but mostly about assimilation of information.

I've had a variety of undergrads. There was Underage who was very nice and, also, very sixteen. We had Fearful who seemed to be scared of me, but did good work (I'm still uncertain as to why zie was scared of me, but I've been informed that I am quite fearsome. As an aside, I told Advisor that and he couldn't stop laughing. He then told Former Labmate and the two of them could not stop. Sigh. There goes Ivan the Terrible as a career aspiration.) There was Awesome Undergrad, who I still miss quite a lot. The last one that I had was Flighty, who was very nice, but, well, didn't always show up. The ability to assimilate information, and act on it, has been key in whether or not they succeed.

I think working in a Research Lab is a very different experience for them. It's different than a lecture course where they are told to show up and listen (while, hopefully, taking notes). It's different than the lab courses where everything is very structured (as in, add the entire contents of tube B to flask A this will show the floogly reaction.). In Research Lab, you are allowed to have your own schedule (to a certain degree) and there's very little of add all of this to that. Suddenly, they are expected to assimilate information from classes, lab courses, and our lab. Not only that, but their ability to assimilate this information is "tested" in everyday lab situations (as in calculating dilutions for example, or not adding acid to water). Some of my undergrads (I think this may have been the case with Fearful) are very stressed about this. Some just want to be told what to do and how to do it. Some do very well with this and even enjoy the opportunity to put all their knowledge to use. The latter I enjoy teaching the most and sometimes suggest that grad school would be a nifty option.

Now, this is where the Borg comes in. At Public U., we have many undergrads that come to our lab as a check mark on the way to med school. In theory, I think it's good that med students (prospective or otherwise) have some idea on how research works. It's good not only to help evaluate studies in their own field, but to understand the work it takes (and has taken) to build the body of medical information. That's all well and good, but there are times that I would like to only teach undergrads that want to go to grad school. It's a thought that I quash and reproach myself for even thinking about, but it has helped me to understand why professors like to mentor students that want to become professors. There is the urge to assimilate them into the Academy. An urge that I resist.

*Yes, I did see the new Star Trek move. Why do you ask? If you're curious, I really liked it. The movie managed to combine the best of the cool science fiction-y type stuff with the human interest stuff. That's everything that I like about the Star Trek series.**
** I did discover that I've developed a Pavlovian response to Red Shirts on Star Trek. Seeing a young, not-yet-Captain Kirk in a Red Shirt made me very disoriented.