Politics & The Ladder | #5

Coming into the internship, I felt that the experiences would be more or less the same of that at the labs I’ve worked in at the University of Michigan. I think, because it is a 30 hour a week gig, I’ve learned and consumed more information that I ever could have at home. Being a summer intern has given me the chance to step back and observe the power dynamic within a group of colleagues, the systematic facilitation of a research lab, and the thoughts and opinons of those placed in these settings.

My perspective on pursuing graduate school had changed through discussions with an insanely intelligent yet overtly assertive ex-marine graduate student. He advised to wait a few years to return to school, to go out and encounter obstacles that didn’t involve decoding data sets and analyzing eye-track responses in four-year-olds. This was a sentiment with which I already agreed and was happy to have the idea reassured, But he did share a particularly bothersome opinion about research in general: It’s all a pyramid scheme. Think of it —

You’re a bright eyed undergrad research thirsty and ready to get experience. The graduate students who have research say “Come work for me for free for 2 and 1/2 months. Sure, you’ll get a recommendation that may or may not help you get into grad school or work that you’ve done may not get your name published, but hey at least my data is collected!” Once you’re finally in grad school, Post docs say “Hey, come collect my data . . .” Repeat, repeat, repeat, until you’ve either become a PI yourself, get your own research funding (if you’re lucky), or you go into academia (also if you’re lucky), etc. Those who do work will be given more work, many graduate students get burned out and end up dropping after 4 years and some don’t even get published before that happens. It’s a horribly political system that runs on the foundation of accolades and networking.

Did this change my perspective a bit? Yes. Am I still going to pursue graduate school? Yes, eventually and after I feel that I know it is what I want with certainty. My perspective has mainly shifted, though I’m taking it positively. I know things to look out for when applying to places, I understand the importance of finding a place where my peers and superiors will fit in with my professional desires, and I understand that my worth does not lie upon my ability to publish or the amount of data I can correlate to back up my scientific hypotheses. It’s always going to be hard work, and possibly unfair at times, but my passion and pursuit overwhelmingly outweigh the drawbacks piggybacking my field.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *