Last week, I was at an undergrad research meeting in Washington, D.C. On the whole, the trip was not highly useful, but I did get a lovely view from my balcony:
It was depressing to hear multiple people say that a lot of undergrad research mentors don’t benefit from working with undergraduates. They see it as a duty that they do somewhat reluctantly. Sort of like cleaning the toilets after a party. The mentors don’t even work directly with the students in some cases, leaving it to grad students and post-docs. I wonder how many students apply to a program and think they’re going to work with a faculty member, only to discover you’re going to get very little face time with the “listed” mentor.
Interestingly, most of the grants go to research intensive universities. A discussion about publishing with undergraduates, though, indicated that the ones at the mainly undergraduate institutions might have better success in publishing papers.
There was no discussion about long term career prospects; i.e., whether all these undergraduate researchers are going to be able to have career prospects at the end of this. To some degree, some people addressed this by asking, “If a student goes on to become a science teacher, is that as much a success as a student who goes into a Ph.D. Program?”
While at the meeting, someone asked if there was any drug violence around the region. I said I wasn’t aware of any, but little did I know that waiting on my iPod was a story from The Current about violence in Reynosa, which is right across the border from us.
I did have some time after the meeting to walk around the mall. I stuck to the outside exhibits rather than going into the Smithsonian museums, several of which had long lines and wanted me to check my bag. I did see the signs for a new hall on human origins in the Natural History Museum (right). As I was walking past, I saw one man point at the banners and say to his friend, “That’s where they try to tell you we came from monkeys,” and laugh. (More commentary on the exhibit by Jerry Coyne.)
Going through security was much less annoying than I expected. I got some useful data mining done on the flight between Memphis and McAllen, so I’m glad I brought my netbook after all.
Unfortunately, I seem to have walked past someone who had a virus either in DC or in an airport. I’ve been feeling a little woozy since getting back.