Saturday, March 27, 2010

The donors tour

See my previous posts here and here.

Well, we were prepped. Early and deep. We did three animal surgeries this week to make sure that we had good samples to show. And they seemed pretty good. The student's rehearsed their spiels with me, although it became clear that one had no freakin' idea what was going on. So stu and I rehearsed and rehearsed until we reached some level of understanding that would pass muster.

I will have to mentally process how the failure of responsibility for this is distributed: My lack of attention and no "journal club"-type requirements until the end of the project, or the student's lack of ability/ training to see the forest for the trees and not to perseverate on the techniques at the expense of the question.

I said to Stu, "I expect you to know this stuff, but its like a class in which there is only a final. Those classes require a lot of discipline on your part to keep up with the material." Stu replies, " Yes, but this is also like the final being moved up five weeks unexpectedly." In any case, I will have to modify my advising of research students to prevent my future students from ignoring the question after the original meetings and using all of their mental energies solely on techniques and troubleshooting.

The bigwigs were late showing, but the lab was filled quickly with photogs, PR people, and fundraisers. They came in the wrong door of the lab which was logistically challenging, but we eventually ended up across the hall in front of my best posters. One joked about the title (they were not all scientists) and tried to pronounce the words, saying he and his wife were just talking about that at breakfast.

I introduced myself, gave my educational background, and joked that this was the smallest town I'd lived in. I also stated that I loved working at SRU, and in part it was due to the students, who I believed to be a little different than others. I explained the our philosophy behind undergraduate research (primarily synthesis of all they've learned in their science classes and higher-order learning). I pointed to two of the techniques and explained how they were unique in an undergrad lab setting, so much so that my graduates have been sought after for their expertise in that technique, but not difficult enough that an undergrad couldn't master them after being in the lab a reasonable time.

Then we went into the lab and spilt into two groups, where they observed the students, who gave them all quick spiels. Others engaged me to ask specific questions, so I was not able to really listen to what the students were saying. I did intercede briefly for stu who was struggling with a technical thing and not able to talk while concentrating.

One person asked how I do the research with my teaching load or some such thing. I answered that the students who do research at an institution like mine learn better to work independently than students who do research in a lab at a larger institution where there's always someone in the lab they can ask (a tech, post doc, grad student) I thought, of course my students are also exposed less to other ideas and techniques and apparently can flounder in the lab for nigh on 7 months without really being forced to ponder their question... but I DIDN'T say that.

One of the scientists questioned my use of a certain chemical, causing me to re-evaluate the entire project. Good, my first reviewer! but CRAP! he has a good point. More on that later...

The tour quickly turned from the science and techniques to general conversation. As the tour ended, the dean of a med school was talking to one of my students about getting her into his med school. Others were checking their blackberries. Then the organizers herded everyone out to take a tour of our facilities. One of the PR folks whispered and gesticulated that we did a GREAT JOB. I heard later from the fundraisers that they will form a committee of powerful alumni and could we do it again?


  1. Congrats! It sounds like a success. Pretty soon you will be the poster child for SRU. Interesting to hear of someone actually questioning the science though. That would have thrown me for a loop!

    Nice job all-in-all!