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Post Archive
2017 (0)2012 (1)2011 (51)
August (1)

Wednesday Micro Hits
Wednesday, August 17, 2011
July (1)

Is it worth getting an education?
Thursday, July 7, 2011
June (2)

Miscellany
Tuesday, June 28, 2011

It Gets Better
Thursday, June 2, 2011
May (4)

Wednesday Micro Hits
Wednesday, May 11, 2011

My first experience with science writing (Part 1 of 2)
Tuesday, May 10, 2011

This is why we get vaccinated
Thursday, May 5, 2011

Monday Morning Jam
Monday, May 2, 2011
April (2)

Saturday Morning Serenade
Saturday, April 23, 2011

So long, farewell ...
Friday, April 1, 2011
March (10)

Stay Tuned ...
Thursday, March 31, 2011

From the Union of Concerned Scientists
Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Week 23 - Hockey Pool
Monday, March 14, 2011

March Madness
Monday, March 14, 2011

Saturday Morning Serenade
Saturday, March 12, 2011

What a bargain!
Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Wednesday Micro Hits
Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Technique Overload
Monday, March 7, 2011

Saturday Morning Serenade
Saturday, March 5, 2011

Et tu FDA?
Wednesday, March 2, 2011
February (10)

Saturday Morning Serenade - A Hip Edition
Saturday, February 26, 2011

Saturday Morning Serenade
Saturday, February 19, 2011

Wednesday Micro Hits (on Thursday!)
Thursday, February 17, 2011

HR1
Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Happy Valentine's Day
Monday, February 14, 2011

Saturday Morning Serenade
Saturday, February 12, 2011

The GOP War on Science
Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Wednesday Micro Hits
Wednesday, February 9, 2011

People, how about some ...
Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Saturday Morning Serenade
Saturday, February 5, 2011
January (21)

Saturday Morning Serenade
Saturday, January 29, 2011

Sacrifice
Friday, January 28, 2011

Are you married to your reagents?
Thursday, January 27, 2011

Wednesday Micro Hits
Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Common Sense Tip #1
Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Saturday Morning Serenade
Saturday, January 22, 2011

From the Baby Boomers, a Big "Screw You"
Friday, January 21, 2011

Student Worker - More Student or More Worker?
Friday, January 21, 2011

Wednesday Micro Hits
Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Saturday Morning Serenade
Saturday, January 15, 2011

Holy moly!
Friday, January 14, 2011

Thursday Pondering
Thursday, January 13, 2011

The Electronic Office
Thursday, January 13, 2011

Wednesday Micro Hits
Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Saturday Morning Serenade
Saturday, January 8, 2011

The Plug - January Edition
Friday, January 7, 2011

Bits 'N Pieces
Thursday, January 6, 2011

Latest Manuscript Review
Wednesday, January 5, 2011

The $4 gallon of gas
Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Our slowly shrinking (and dying) planet
Tuesday, January 4, 2011

It's 2011 already? For reals?
Monday, January 3, 2011
2010 (46)
December (9)

Saturday Morning Serenade
Saturday, December 11, 2010

The State of Microbiology
Thursday, December 9, 2010

Wednesday Micro Hits
Wednesday, December 8, 2010

2010 blogging meme
Tuesday, December 7, 2010

The Environmental Impact of the Christmas Season
Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Music Snobbery
Thursday, December 2, 2010

Phantom Power
Thursday, December 2, 2010

What's Your Name?
Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Wednesday Micro Hits
Wednesday, December 1, 2010
November (8)

Saturday Morning Serenade
Saturday, November 27, 2010

Awakening from the food coma ...
Friday, November 26, 2010

Wednesday Micro Hits
Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Donor's Choose Final Followup (Recipes #3 and #4)
Tuesday, November 23, 2010

A Monday Mess
Monday, November 22, 2010

Saturday Morning Serenade
Saturday, November 6, 2010

Wednesday Micro Hits (Peer-Review Edition)
Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Day 2 of the ASA-CSSA-SSSA Meeting (#ACSMtg)
Wednesday, November 3, 2010
October (29)

ASA-CSSA-SSSA Meeting - Day 1
Sunday, October 31, 2010

Stayin' Alive
Sunday, October 31, 2010

Saturday Morning Serenade
Saturday, October 30, 2010

Wednesday Micro Hits (Vol. 4)
Wednesday, October 27, 2010

ASA-CSSA-SSSA Early Career Program
Monday, October 25, 2010

Saturday Morning Serenade
Saturday, October 23, 2010

Wednesday Micro Hits (Vol. 3)
Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Donor's Choose - Family Recipe Number 1
Sunday, October 17, 2010

Making Good on Donor's Choose Bribe - Comfort Food Recipe 1
Saturday, October 16, 2010

Saturday Morning Serenade
Saturday, October 16, 2010

Friday Wrap-Up and Random Thoughts (Vol. 2)
Friday, October 15, 2010

First I Begged, Now I Bribe
Thursday, October 14, 2010

Finding Out Things The Hard Way(TM)
Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Wednesday Micro Hits (Vol 2)
Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Here's where I start begging ...
Tuesday, October 12, 2010

#UnK3rn3d: Life Outside the Lab?
Tuesday, October 12, 2010

First fleas, now frogs?
Tuesday, October 12, 2010

No Fleas Please
Monday, October 11, 2010

My next Research Blogging article has been chosen ...
Sunday, October 10, 2010

Saturday Morning Serenade
Saturday, October 9, 2010

Donor's Choose
Friday, October 8, 2010

Friday Wrap-up and Random Thoughts
Friday, October 8, 2010

RB: Waste Not, Want Not.
Thursday, October 7, 2010

Research Blogging
Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Wednesday Micro Hits
Wednesday, October 6, 2010

What if I were not a microbiologist ...
Tuesday, October 5, 2010

TJ's Tips on Manuscript Review
Monday, October 4, 2010

Chinese plagiarism and the death of English-language journals
Friday, October 1, 2010

Allow Me a Formal Introduction
Friday, October 1, 2010
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Thomas Joseph

It's a Micro World after all is a blog dedicated to discussing pretty much whatever I feel like. When I delve into scientific matters it will primarily be discussing microbiology (agricultural, bioenergy, and environmental focus). Otherwise, I'll probably ramble on about sports and life.

My posts are presented as opinion and commentary and do not represent the views of LabSpaces Productions, LLC, my employer, or my educational institution.

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Awesome Stuff
Friday, January 21, 2011

Happy times! Collaborations have my lab bursting at the seams. We literally have hundreds of samples waiting to be processed, and with the projects we're already neck deep in taking up all of our time, I've realized that I need to do something to break the sample processing bottleneck. DNA does not extract itself.

So to reduce the bottleneck I've hired a student worker. This will be my third. So far I'm 1 for 2 in the category of "productive student worker". The first was a disaster. They were handed over to me from a coworker who "couldn't use them". Hindsight being 20:20 and all, the reason my coworker couldn't was because the student was a bum ... ok, maybe not so much a bum as entitled. As in "this is beneath me." I could sit down with them, outline experiments, have my support scientist hover over them ... in essence, do everything short of running the whole thing myself and it still resulted in a mess. We did get a couple of figures for a proceedings paper (hopefully a manuscript in the near future), but it was an opportunity lost. I shoulder the blame for the lack of productivity out of this student. I was new, it was my first student, and I was still trying to work out of my supervisory style and there are things that I know I could have done better.

Fortunately, the second student was great. So much so that their name found its way onto a couple of manuscripts. They were extremely diligent, hard working, thorough. Took direction, asked questions, admitted mistakes promptly, worked extra hard to not commit them again. Student #2 was the exact opposite of Student #1, even though they both came from the same university, same program, one year apart.

Well, this semester I'm dipping into this program for my third student. They come highly recommended from a collaborator who doesn't have the project and money to hire them for their final semester of undergrad. From what I've been told, they have great hands and are quick on the pick up. No microbiology experience (taking it this semester concurrently with this job), but that really won't come into play when extracting DNA and doing other molecular biology tasks.

For me, the student worker -- especially when it pans out -- is a win/win scenario for both of us. I get a lot of routine, rather boring work completed in a quick time frame. The student makes a great hourly wage and gets lab experience. If they work ahead of pace, I give them more responsibilities and give them access to some of the more exotic work we do. It's one thing to make master mixes for PCR reactions, or pick 200 clones of a community we're going to sequence ... it's another to handle qPCR runs that we're going to use in a publication. Sometimes I will even give them a side project we have sitting around and let them run with it. If they progress to this point, I'll make them do their own experiment troubleshooting, and then I'll ask them to write up a Materials and Methods section for all the work they did. It won't be perfect, but it gets them thinking and writing and it allows me to justify adding them to a manuscript.

Which brings me to the title of this blog entry. Is the student worker more student, or more worker? It's not an easy question for me, even though I'm paying them. The temptation is to use them as more worker, but I think I'd be doing them, myself, and the scientific community harm by not treating them as more student. That's why when I sit down with my student workers we won't just simply outline what needs to be done. We'll go over what needs to be done, why it needs to be done, and how it needs to be done. Since DNA doesn't extract itself, we need to use a kit to do so. Why do we use that kit? Whats in that kit? What exactly does each component do? These are teaching moments. My PhD advisor did the same thing to me when I was in graduate school. I couldn't even use a kit until I had made up all of my own reagents, done the experiments successfully on my own without the use of a kit, and then could explain why each step was necessary for the successful completion of the experiment. I hated that, but in the long run it helped me. My advisors thinking was that if I knew what was going on in each step, if something broke down when using the kit, I could more effectively troubleshoot. I paid in terms of time and tears on the front end, so I wouldn't lose time and grow frustrated on the back end ... when experiments and my graduate career were on the line.

Of course, I only have these student workers for a semester or two tops, so time is limited and I really need to see progress. It does me no good to have them know how a DNA extraction kit works inside and out, only to still have 200 samples sitting in lab waiting to be processed on their last day of work. So there is definitely a balance which needs to happen. So I do the next best thing, which is suitable for all students IMO.

I give them homework.

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Former Lab Assistant

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Try asking them what they hope to get out of the experience and talk with them to see if you can provide that for them.  You'll get 10 times as many assistants who will even work for free if you'll pay attention to what they want as much as you do to what you want.


Thomas Joseph
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Thanks for the comment FLA. I've read your comment several times, and I'm trying to figure out if you meant it to come across snarky, or it's just the way I'm reading it.

1. Letters of Reference

2. Lab experience for the resume/CV

3. A decent wage

4. Chance to learn the ropes of a laboratory/institution

5. Experience with particular machinery/techniques

6. An education

Those are the six things that I've thought up that I figure assistants want. Now, perhaps there are more, but they don't come readily to my mind. Now, what do I want?

1. Productivity

That's it. I want need someone to come in and be productive. I have limited funds, and limited time, and I don't want to come across as crass but ... if I can't get that, I'm not interested (whether they wish to work for free or not). The six things I've listed above for the student worker ... those are things that are all discussed when we're conducting the interviewing, and those are things which are earned by the student workers during the course of their stay in my laboratory. I don't need ten student workers working in my lab for free (I'm not at an academic institution), I just need one productive student worker who I'll pay a damn good wage for their hard work (given our locale, and their lack of experience).

I don't know, maybe I'm just out of touch with todays students?

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