Undergrad, Underdogs

The undergraduate student culture in a science research lab is very interesting, and I didn’t realize how interesting it was until my second summer in the lab. As an undergrad, you walk into your lab on your first day expecting so much of yourself. You expect to find the most promising results of your life. You expect to impress everyone in your lab. You basically expect to become the next Albert Einstein. But your mentors and fellow grad students and post-doctorates think otherwise. They’re not expecting you to fail, but they’re definitely not expecting you to be an Einstein…they’re STILL aiming to be half the brain Einstein had. Mentors are trained and taught to expect undergrads to be toddlers running rampant around a lab, lighting Bunsen burners necessarily, and mixing up materials because we can’t read. Funny isn’t it, especially since all we want to is find the cure for cancer? This conflict of expectations between undergrad and mentor/lab superiors can often be fatal….well mentally exhausting. No undergrad wants to come into lab feeling like their mentors don’t trust them, but no mentor wants to ruin months or even years of work on a toddler. So where do we compromise? The answer is that there is no compromise. The undergrad is actually the underdog. But the great thing about being an underdog is that you’re being paid to learn. Remember the billions of times we screamed and whined as kids, “if only we got paid to go to school!” Well, being an undergrad-underdog is that dream come true. Undergrads (most of the time…) are paid (quite a SMALL AMOUNT), to learn about numerous projects, dip their hands and feet in for a quick swim, and then step out of the water if we don’t like it. But for mentors, they’re already 100 feet deep. They’re almost fish by now and there’s no turning back. So while to the outsider, being an underdog seems degrading and simply unfair, I’ve learned that being the undergrad-underdog is one of the best jobs and educational experiences to have ever existed. Where else would I be expected to be a reckless undergraduate student and still be paid for it?

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