Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Good Minions

Good undergraduate minions are difficult to find and hard to train. But when you find the right combination of eagerness to learn, native intelligence, and good attitude it is like winning the lottery. They start to run your experiments from start to finish without supervision, they analyze data and plan future experiments before you get to it, they start on their own mini-projects, they present at lab meeting, in short they become grown-up scientists.

It is a joy to watch someone's critical thinking skills coming into being. It feels so beautiful to me, like watching the sunrise over the ocean. I have had the distinct pleasure of having had three excellent minions. I love my minions and when I get a good one I do everything I can to shove every spec of knowledge I have into their brains. I also always make sure to let them know how much I appreciate their hard work.

One of my awesome minions recently graduated and has gone on to a real job making 'real' money (his words not mine). This particular minion worked with/for me while I was on maternity leave. He was a fantastic, amazing, wonderfully efficient and effective lab assistant. He single handedly generated two of the figures for my paper while I was on maternity leave. Do you have any idea how amazing that is? I went and had a baby and came back three months later to lab to find mountains of statistically significant data. STATISTICALLY SIGNIFICANT DATA! I appreciate him to no end and feel very lucky to have had such a talented person working for me.

Today he stopped by to say hello and brought me these flowers as a thank you.
He that he doesn't much like his job as a wilderness fire fighter even though it pays really well. He enjoyed being a volunteer firefighter while he was an undergraduate but he thinks working in the lab has ruined him for other kinds of jobs. He said working with me taught him how enjoyable it is to be able to work independently, to use your mind, and now he wants a job where he has to think not just 'follow orders'. He is considering some kind of graduate school, but isn't sure exactly what he wants to pursue quite yet. He told me that he never thought he was that smart before working with me.

So although I didn't receive my NIH fellowship, I still feel like a winner today.


  1. I LOVE RAs like that. They're such a joy and so rewarding. Even when they go on to be doctors or lawyers or business people. They're amazing. And I'm so much more productive when I've got one. It's been a couple of years since my last one!

    On the plus side though, I've gotten emails from some students and been told that others have posted on their facebook pages that they're actually using what I taught them in school on their summer internships. Like, at least 3 separate students doing different internships across the world (one local, one in DC, one in a developing country). That's pretty crazy. And it's too bad I'm not teaching that class next year...

  2. That's the best compliment to get! Congrats!

  3. Thanks guys, it felt really good to be acknowledged as a mentor.