We're a little crazy, about science!

Summer schooled

It’s that time of the year again! It’s summer term, which means that on both the school and hospital sides we will be getting students for summer internships. This is good in that we’ll have some extra hands for experiments, but it also means that we’re teaching the students how we operate in the lab. The difference between the school experience and the hospital experience is that on the school side they take actual lecture style courses to help get them up to speed. Which means someone has to teach those courses… I’m one of those someones.

It feels like only yesterday I had no idea what I was doing and could barely string together two lines of MATLAB code. Okay, I had to use MATLAB in undergrad and for my Masters, but it was a totally different level of usage. Still it’s weird to go from the person who has no idea what’s going on to being one of the senior lab members in what feels like the blink of an eye. It’s such a weird feeling I don’t even know how to quantify it. But here we are and I suddenly (mostly?) know what I’m doing. Learning is sneaky like that (no really).

Since there’s only a handful of us who have been there for more than a few months, COVID caused a rather large gap, we’re going to attempt to teach the summer interns and the new people in the lab how to do what we do. Currently there are three of us who have extended experience, but we’re all set to graduate in the next year, one at the end of summer, and two of us next spring (hopefully, for all those projected dates!).

The way things are done in the school lab is pretty simple. We list the courses that will be taught over the summer and we volunteer to teach them. Two years ago I taught several classes including a 10 week solid modeling class, which I put tons of energy and effort in translating to both solidworks and the free version of sketchup (here!). That was so much work, plus I made it harder on myself by doing all the work to turn it into stuff I could share on my blog. Last year to keep with the theme I taught a four course intro to MATLAB course, which I also shared here for everyone (here) and I’ve even added a fifth course since I’m nice like that.

Unlike the previous two years, I’m working full time. Last year was “light” because I was working 50/50 between the two labs, this year it’s more like 95/5 with the bulk of my time at the hospital side of things. I like it, clinical research is awesome, but it means I don’t have time to do a fully thought out hardcore lecture series like I’ve done in the previous years. Which is fine, I was just doing it for fun anyway and because I enjoy teaching.

This year is going to be a little different and I’ve already committed to teaching a couple of courses, but those are single lecture, two-hour courses and not multipart classes like I’ve been doing. Which means I probably won’t have much to share with everyone here, but I will probably tack on a few bits of things where they should go. I mean what’s the point of doing all that work if I don’t share? That’s basically what this whole 365 days of academia project was predicated on.

So this year I’m teaching another intro to MATLAB class, which I will probably toss into the intro to MATLAB category just to be through. I’m also teaching (possibly) figure making in MATLAB, intro to independent component analysis (ICA), (possibly) dipole fitting, and I believe that’s all. So comparatively light load and there’s a 98.756957% chance that I will be teaching all of these virtually. It shouldn’t be a huge problem since we’re using software on a computer so teaching virtually may be better than trying to do it all in person frankly.

On the hospital side of things, we’ll be working with another couple of students. Last year was… eventful (like this story) the good news is that my mentee made it through and even though I haven’t heard from her, I hope she is doing well (the last day with our interns last year). This year will probably, PROBABLY, be less eventful than last year. We’re getting two fairly established people this time around and that means they have seen research before or at least have skills that can be applied to what we do.

Now personally I like what happened last year and it was THE IDEAL case. The thing is that most people don’t REALLY need us. They do summer internships like this to tick a box on an application to medical school or on their way to some other professional field. The ones who do need us are the ones who aren’t sure they want to be a researcher or don’t have any clue what research is about. The ones who don’t think they are good enough or have what it takes to be in the field, like the person I worked with last year. Those are the people who truly benefit from the experience and who get something life changing out of it because they get to see that they do belong and that they can dream bigger. That’s just my opinion though. It’s a bit one sided in that situation, but why bother teaching if you want to get something out of it more than the satisfaction of helping raise people up?

Both programs officially kick off next week so I’ll be teaching my intro to MATLAB course right away, as in Thursday of next week. We still need to come up with a concrete plan for the interns at the hospital, but we have different opinions about what to do with them. I think we’re going to play it by ear somewhat and see how comfortable they are in the clinical environment.

Getting used to research in a hospital setting can be a bit jarring because you see people running around in scrubs who are doctors, nurses, OT’s, PT’s, etc. and realize they all are, in some cases decades, ahead of where you are. At least in a school environment, you’re working with people in grad school, which probably doesn’t feel like that big of a leap. Maybe it should though, maybe it should…

Basically this year should be controlled chaos, but it’s the normal for me, so why not?


4 responses

  1. I used to love my summer “jump” students. They were in high school and I still keep in touch with some one in particular who is now doing her last year of medical school. I used to love teaching and getting them excited about science.

    Liked by 1 person

    May 27, 2022 at 6:43 pm

    • That’s awesome! We occasionally get high school students in the school lab, but it’s pretty rare. It’s always a lot of fun though. I’m glad you get to keep in touch with them!

      Liked by 1 person

      May 28, 2022 at 12:21 pm

  2. I’d forgotten that this was going to be on your plate too. But if you can teach the new grad students at the same time as the interns, maybe that’ll help with your knowledge transfer problem … at least a little bit!

    I keep wondering when my job is going to assign me to mentor an intern or a new hire. My manager thinks I need leadership experience (and I agree), but nobody seems to be able to come up with a way for me to get it.

    Liked by 1 person

    May 27, 2022 at 7:29 pm

    • Yeah that was my thought on the matter too! I’m hoping we can teach everyone at once, at least a little bit. It won’t be super in-depth, but it’s better than nothing.

      I bet you would be a great mentor! I hope you get the chance to get some experience soon.

      Liked by 1 person

      May 28, 2022 at 12:22 pm

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