May 2010

Letter for Plus the Secret Handshake

HandshakeDear Dr. Petsko:

Your article in the March 2010 issue of ASBMB Today matches my thoughts and experiences.

I had always planned on going to medical school. However, in my senior year at college, I did a research project in biochemistry. In those days, biochemistry was a tiny part of chemistry at Stanford University. I suddenly realized that I really liked dealing with things, rather than with people, which I would be doing as a doctor. I enjoyed research and went on to receive my doctoral degree in biochemistry from the University of California, Berkeley.

After a few years, however, I soon had students and postdoctoral fellows and no longer spent time in the lab. I was not trained to deal with people and administration. So, as you said, I had to “stumble my way along by trial and error— mostly error.”

A big lab is considered to be a sign of success, but you lose what you originally wanted to do, which was to work in the lab. Now you are a teacher and must take pride in what your students do in the lab. Is the trade-off worth it? Yes, but you have to get used to it, and a little training in administration and dealing with people would have helped.

I think it’s great that there are now courses to train graduate students on how to manage their own laboratories.

Kendric C. Smith
Stanford University
Stanford, Calif.

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I didn't notice it much at the time, but I found the transition to supervising a laboratory rather easy--I had done it all before! Perhaps schools without work plans should institute a similar program to give such experience to people receiving support under the various kinds of Work Study programs now in existence at many colleges. It really doesn't require a...


5/4/2010--This discussion prompts me to recognize how lucky I was to get practical experience in administering a laboratory as an undergraduate at tiny (400 students) Blackburn College (Carlinville, IL), which has a work plan that includes all resident students. My sophomore to senior years I was the equivalent of a Teaching Assistant, and the senior year I was also responsible for all equipment and reagent inventory maintenance and ordering for everything in the chemistry department. The work plan was intended to keep tuition as low as possible, but it also provided invaluable experience for me in dealing with day-to-day considerations of laboratory operations.



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