Working with undergraduate researchers at a SLAC, I generally only get to have the same person in my lab for about two years (and at least one semester of that is pure training with almost zero productivity - understandably). But every summer there is a glorious opportunity to attract one or more Presidential Fellows who could potentially be working with me for the next four years. The obvious downside, of course, is that they haven't yet had any college-level science courses or lab experience. But the bigger worry for me is that I need to make a decision about whether to hire them sight unseen, generally on the basis of a couple of brief email exchanges.
This summer, for example, I have three contenders. One wrote to ask some questions about my lab's research - so far, so good! - but then responded to my email in a way that showed s/he had conflated two completely different projects (which I had taken care to describe in separate paragraphs and everything). Another described his/her academic strengths and asked about the "qualifications" for working with me. I responded by describing some of the skills that it would be helpful to have - not technical ones, but rather things like the ability to ask questions, respond to constructive criticism, follow directions, and work in a team. I then asked pointedly if s/he had any questions for me about my lab, our research, etc. To which s/he replied that no, s/he couldn't think of any! *SIGH*. Is this the big red flag that I think it is?
I have no doubt that these are all bright, accomplished kids. Unfortunately I have learned the hard way that the best students don't always make the best scientists - often they give research a lower priority than grades, they are discouraged by the inevitable failures of experimental science, either they are terrified of making mistakes or they are too arrogant to ask questions when they don't understand something or to take direction or criticism... the list goes on. (Confession: I was an excellent student. And in retrospect I can't believe that my undergraduate research advisor didn't strangle me when I demonstrated my priorities by, for example, abruptly dumping all of my experiments on him at the end of the quarter because I had more important things to do like study for finals.)
Any advice for me as I seek to sort the grain from the chaff would be very welcome.
A Natural Experiment
19 hours ago