a shot of humility never hurt anyone
I was reminded of a funny story today. One piece of advice that was passed on to me and that I pass on to younger students is that when you are looking to engage a P.I. about doing a rotation in their lab, specifically indicate that you would like to meet with them ONLY IF they have a space open in the lab for a rotating student during your desired time period. I have known a lot of students–mostly for purposes of graduate school lab rotations–who have not specified this and then end up wasting an hour of their time. I, on the other hand, have always specified this space requirement in my emails to P.I.s and this strategy has saved me a lot of time. Except for once.
It was during first year of medical school and I was trying to line up a lab rotation for during the summer (for those who aren’t familiar: most mudphudders do graduate school lab rotations during the summer between first and second year of medical school to save some time). It was probably a little late to be just starting to look into labs–ahem… it was definitely a little late. But to be honest, at our institution mudphudders are sought by P.I.s–whether right or wrong–and I was definitely taking that to heart in my nonchalance. (I was young… What can I say?) So any way, after lectures and lab one afternoon, I went to see a P.I. who had indicated in his email to me that there was space in his lab for a graduate student rotation over that summer. A little background–this guy is very well known at our institution and a member of some very prestigious organizations; also a bit wierd but that could be my lingering resentment–you’ll see. So I went to talk to him and we talked for an hour. I indicated that my research background from experiences in college was not in his area of research but that I was willing to work hard and learn. And after an hour of conversation, he looked at me and said: “Yeeeaahh, I don’t think we room in the lab this summer for another student. But maybe next summer.”
I think there was like a three second silence where I just sat there staring at him. In my head: HE TOLD ME THERE WAS SPACE IN HIS EMAIL. Now of course, there were several possibilities: 1) he made a mistake in his email; 2) there was space but one of his major grants fell through and he could no longer support a graduate student for the summer; or 3) mudphudder just got REJECTED. So obviously, mudphudder definitely got rejected.
That was cold. Freezing even. And I was ticked. Of course I knew what had happened and of course he knew that I knew what had happened. Well, I politely thanked him for his time and even sent a nice “thank you” email when I got home that night. Later that summer I talked to a technician working in that P.I.’s lab who indicated that they were indeed looking for graduate students as there was definitely room. This person also wanted to know why I asked… Cold. Just cold.
Seven years later, I’m still not completely over it. I mean, how do you NOT take that personally? Right? Of course, these days, I mostly laugh my head off thinking about it–but still…