Wednesday, June 8, 2011

11 ways to really irritate your summer lab mentor

Summer students, it's early June, so it means that you're probably settling into the lab you'll be in for the next two to three months or so. Here's a few ways of getting back at the person you'll be working for/with:
  1. On a regular basis, ask your mentor "Why should the government fund this research?" She'll love you for it. 
  2. If they show you their secret stash of equipment, say loudly, "Hey, how come you're not sharing this stuff with your labmates?"
  3. Dirty glassware isn't worth cleaning -- ever. 
  4. Go through the drawers around their lab bench and loudly point out any unlabeled flasks of compounds. 
  5. Ask, "Do you have a boyfriend (or girlfriend)?" If yes, ask them "When was the last time you got to spend time with them?" If no, ask them "Why not?"
  6. If your group meeting presentation isn't going well, turn to your lab mentor and say, "You didn't prepare me well enough for this!"
  7. Ask them what the departmental Chemical Hygiene Plan is. 
  8. Every Tuesday, ask them to explain every single step of an experiment and what chemical principles are involved. Make sure they look everything up in a textbook. 
  9. Remind them that you're thinking about engineering or medical school. 
  10. If they're really, really, really messy, regularly clean up everything spotlessly. They won't be able to function. 
  11. Repeat after me: "Hey, what kind of jobs can you get after you graduate?"


  1. I'm pretty sure a few of these will get you thrown off the top of the building by an angry mob of grad students with pitchforks and torches.

  2. Unstable IsotopeJune 8, 2011 at 11:29 AM

    A guy I knew in grad school was an obsessive neat freak. He told me his college roommate used to mess with him by turning his carefully placed objects 45 to 90 degrees. His roommate thought it was funny to watch him turn everything back to the right way. My friend said he didn't even realize he was doing this.

  3. Unstable IsotopeJune 8, 2011 at 11:30 AM

    Never show anyone your secret lab equipment stash. That's just asking for trouble.

  4. CJ: You forget to mention...a summer student asking the long he (mentor) usually work at the bench.

  5. I laugh as I think of my eyelids twitching if my summer student did some of these.

    I might add:

    Squirt one line of acetone across the top of the hood sash and watch the sharpie teardrops streak down the glass. Then don't wipe them off.

  6. 1) Demand to be put on all the papers.

    2) Inquire with your mentor if the research has commercial applications, or is it all simply 'esoteric academic stuff'.

    3) Probe the graduate students with questions like "why didn't you go to Harvard" and tell them you plan on going to a graduate school with a much better department than this one.

  7. Go to your supervisor and say "I tried this (well established lab procedure) and it doesn't work"

  8. When you don't have anything you need, raid the benches/hoods of your lab mates and when caught, tell them you were under orders by your mentor

  9. Or if you are an international student, ask repeatedly why the postdocs or 7th & 8th year graduate students have not started work yet. Then mention repeatedly that you plan to work at a top company in the US.

  10. "10.If they're really, really, really messy, regularly clean up everything spotlessly. They won't be able to function."

    I did this to my PI... Didn't realize the effects until it was too late!

  11. Awesome advice. Because all mentors/PI's want to work with summer interns - they are such a blast. Especially the new crop because they are so entitled to think these questions actually are funny. Yet another home run CJ! Better yet, why don't you have the interns have their mommy's ask these questions - because the lazy, over-pampered students these days probably will any way.

  12. Oh man...I'm keeping my summer student away from your blog.