Advice for My Graduating Students
Last week one of my graduate students returned to the lab nest after seven long years away. I loved this student. I missed him when he left. He was kind and smart and organized. And he had great penmanship. He wrote well and he presented like a rock star. The only problem was that while he was great at pretty much everything, he had a passion for teaching. Which broke my heart.
Don’t get me wrong. My mom was a teacher for 40 years. I have mad love for the teachers. Teacher can tell you, it is both wildly personally fulfilling and heartbreaking all at once. But no teacher will tell you that it’s financially rewarding. “Do anything else if you can,” is what many of my favorite teachers have told me. No one goes into teaching for the money. In fact, many very sane people are deterred from teaching because the US pays so little for these folks who do pretty much everything to help students succeed.
As graduation approached seven years ago, I took this student aside and said very sternly, “No matter what you do, do NOT go into teaching.” Like the good pupil he was, he took my advice. But not that last bit of advice. He listened to the advice I shared on the first day he asked if he could come work in the lab. I told him he was welcome. I also warned him that while I have plenty of good ideas, I’m almost never right. Every one of my groundbreaking scientific ideas has started from a total “failure.” I just had to see was actually data telling me something else. Every simplistic notion for quick projects proved there are no simple projects but lots of amazing things to discover.
Mercifully, my best students believe me when I tell them I’m almost never right. And more importantly, this student knew he was a great teacher. Seven years later, he is a great teacher who works for an international exam prep company. He loves it. He travels the world helping medical students prep for boards, lives in Southern California and just bought his first Maserati. It’s white.
Here’s my new advice for trainees. Buy these pants. They are $60 and very comfortable, sturdy and easy to care for. Other than that, I’m just your cheer squad.