Sunday 31 May 2015

Worrying ignorance

At The Institute we require a 12 week work-placement or internship as a prerequisite for graduation because the education is training people for the workplace not for a life of leisure. About 12 weeks ago, towards the end of my intense relationship with 16 final year project students, I conducted a straw poll of who had found a work-placement. It was black [no placement sorted] and white [no problem].  You can rant about this inequity, and I did, but you can also do something about it and my roomie called a meeting to put in train a scheme to formally offer internships in our own research wing. Only two people were prepared to take on a trainee/intern/gopher - myself and herself - and last week we had eleven (11!) people in the applicants line for 2, or perhaps 3 positions. Those are better odds that getting a place in Harvard but I was till surprised how many of our students had been caught without a place to go.  They have to fit in 12 weeks between now and the end of September which is 18 weeks away.

We set out a timetable to interview 10 [one having sorted himself out across town] candidates on Friday last. We had the cunning plan to have our two MSc students on the interview panel - which will be good training for them and allow them a substantial say in whom they'll be working with all Summer.  But two claimed that they could attend on Friday, so we scheduled them for Tuesday.  Then one fellow e-mailed us the night before to say that he had a job in Wexford, which is short notice and left an annoying hole in the schedule that was too late to fill.  At least he told us! Two of the other candidates just didn't turn up: no word, no apology, no manners. That's quite worrying because these people are now going out into the work-place (if they can get a position) and the Institute's street-cred depends in part on how our ex-students present themselves.

The rest brushed up nicely and presented themselves rather well - as dedicated, competent scientists who were not afraid of hard work. This didn't always jive with my two+ years of experience with them working in the lab under my supervision; so that made me wonder about a) the efficacy of our interview technique and b) the usefulness of interviews in general. Maybe they've developed their sense of competent self by carrying out a final year research project.  They certainly seemed to describe their own brick in the wall of science with some knowledge and insight.

One of the MSc post-graduates asked the first interviewee "If I asked you get me some H2SO4 what would you bring back?" [blank] "it's an acid" [still blank].  Only one of the 5 remaining candidates answered correctly and quickly and another came up with "sulphuric acid" after a  l o n g pause and the supplementary statement. Cripes and jiminy!  If they don't know that after studying science for 4 years in college there's something wrong. I went off to look for a negative control (what answer was given by people who had no formal scientific training) N = 2 people in their 50s + 2 people about 20 years old. One of the oldsters and one of the youngsters got an almost right answer.

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