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Other Physics lab coordinator?

  1. Jul 20, 2017 #1
    Background: Physics and Math major, turning Sophomore from next semester.

    I worked for a professor during the summer (for free) in high energy Physics trying to plot the signals from a function generator to a computer using a microcontroller. He was really impressed with my work (basically, he gave me a few projects back to back and I got done with them really quickly) and after I asked him something related to my research today, he asked if I would be interested in being the lab coordinator of our Physics lab. This will be a paid position, which is good because I wouldn't need to have another job for money. Should I take it or continue to work on a very specific project?

    Here are my concerns:

    1) Will being a lab coordinator look poorer than working on different projects on a grad school application? My professor said that he always includes the name of the person who is the lab coordinator in a paper since he is the one who oversees everything.

    2) Will it give me a good amount of technical details as compared to if I worked on specific project(s)?
    When I brought it up, he said that I will be surprised by the amount of technical details I would need for this job. Because it involves making sure all the things are going right in the lab, I would have to know everything that's going on in the lab in detail.

    He did say that I can always try it for a semester and if it doesn't work out, I can leave, but I also wanna make sure that I am spending my time at the university wisely.

    Thank you!
  2. jcsd
  3. Jul 20, 2017 #2

    Dr Transport

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    management skills are always a plus....
  4. Jul 21, 2017 #3

    Vanadium 50

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    I see you continue to ignore the advice about avoiding the non-word "wanna". Your choice, but I don't know of many PhD physicists who go around talking like Pebbles Flintstone.

    When you aksed questions (1) and (2) to the professor who offered the job, what was his response?
  5. Jul 21, 2017 #4
    I'd recommend taking the job as lab coordinator. It sounds like a job with lots of responsibilities and lots of opportunities for skill development. Usually when a faculty member increases the pay and responsibilities of an undergraduate, it is a very good indication that they are opening the door for greater skill development AND that they will be favorably inclined to make good recommendations when the time comes.

    Keep impressing your professor. What he writes in letters of recommendation will mean much more than how you portray your job in his lab on your applications. The more you do a good job on tasks that come your way, the more important tasks you will be given.
  6. Jul 21, 2017 #5
    <<Emphasis added>>
    I'm confused by the passage I've highlighted. Does this mean: (a) If you do not accept the position of lab coordinator, that you need to find another paying job to pay your expenses? (b) If so, that other job (either because of fewer hours or lack of schedule conflict) would still permit you to pursue a research project; whereas, if you accepted the position of lab coordinator, you would not also be able to pursue a research project?
  7. Jul 21, 2017 #6
    I have included his responses in my question.
  8. Jul 21, 2017 #7
    (a) I am not sure if I will be paid if I work in a specific project. He did mention (and I am paraphrasing), "lab coordinator is one of the jobs that I would actually be willing to pay people for." And if I do not get paid, then yes, I will need to find another job. (b) If I do get another job, it should still permit me to pursue a research project. However, the reason why I was looking for paid research was because I need to have a job and I wanna do research. If I had paid research, I would not need that extra job and would save about 20 hours/week. If I accept the position of lab coordinator, I am not sure if I will be allowed to work on a specific project or not. I would be helping everyone with their projects, but not sure if I will be able to pursue one of my own. I guess there is no reason why he wouldn't allow me to if I make significant progress.
  9. Jul 21, 2017 #8
    Well, then it looks like the first thing to do is ask your prof: (a) Would he take you on for a paid research project only? and (b) If not, would he take you on for both the paid lab coordinator position and an unpaid research project? Certainly (b) would be preferable to finding an odd job elsewhere and doing an unpaid research project. So find out that info first. BTW, it's usually a favorable situation when someone wants you to work for him.
  10. Jul 21, 2017 #9
    I recommend against this approach. I recommend getting on the payroll as the paid lab coordinator. Once a student is doing a great job in a lab position, he'll likely have a crack at just about every labor shortage that occurs in the lab that is within his skill set. When a research project comes along that the lab needs help on, existing lab staff almost always have dibbs. Don't give away milk for free once they buy the cow.
  11. Jul 21, 2017 #10
    That depends on the programs offered at the university. Way back when I was an undergrad, I had three options for research: (a) for pay, (b) for course credit, and (c) for volunteer work (no pay, no course credit).

    Just to clarify: Do you have a concern that if the student asks up front about various options, instead of simply accepting the lab coordinator position without further inquiry, that the prof might reconsider his offer? Or are you saying that once the student has been hired in a paid position as a lab coordinator, he's likely to get paid for project work, so why offer to do project work for free? But what if the prof's situation is: I've got funds to cover a paid lab coordinator position, but no funds for paid undergrad project work.
  12. Jul 21, 2017 #11

    Vanadium 50

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    My question was rhetorical. Why do you expect our responses to differ from his? He knows exactly what the job is, we can only guess. If you think there's something wrong with his answers, that's a reason not to take the job.
  13. Jul 21, 2017 #12
    My experience is that most undergrads who are in paid positions will most likely get paid for project work when it arises.

    Since the undergrad in question is a sophomore, he's likely got as long as three future years in this lab. Even if the money for project work is not there now, it likely will be when the need arises. Undergrads are so much cheaper than grad students and post docs and most other options a PI has, it is likely that project work can be paid for in a well funded lab. Often the labor shortage arises when a grad student or post doc has an issue and it is easier for the PI to have the well-trained undergrad step in and pick up the slack than get another grad student or post doc up to speed.

    If the undergrad takes a liking to some research idea that may not be funded (or fundable) then that can be negotiated when the time comes. If a project comes along and the student wants it to fulfill course credit (and the university does not allow it to be paid), then that can also be worked out when the time comes. My recommendation is to get the money flowing. An ancient book of wisdom says, "The worker is due his wages." If there is an occasion where resource constraints or university rules require the spigot be turned off for some specific project, then that can be done at the appropriate time and circumstances. But there may also be opportunities for project work on well funded projects. I generally recommend students steer toward these (if available), because graduating debt free is usually more important (if possible) than precisely which projects one has worked on.
  14. Jul 21, 2017 #13
    There's nothing wrong with his answers and I am more inclined to take the job than not. I think the reason why I am hesitant is because the idea of managing a few people and their projects sounds less exciting than me working on a project myself.
  15. Jul 22, 2017 #14
    The situation you face now is representative of similar situations that you will face many times in the future. So you might as well use this situation as an exercise in decision making.

    (a) The optimal scenario you desire is fulfilling your passion AND getting paid for it. The optimal scenario is not an option on the table, however.
    (b) From what you've written so far, you are not independently wealthy, so income is essential.
    (c) The options that you do have on the table are suboptimal scenarios.
    (d) The options trade-off money for passion; short-term lower fulfillment for the possibility of long-term higher gain; and near certainty for higher risk.
    (e) If you hesitate too long in making a decision, the options that are available on the table, suboptimal as they are, may go poof in an instant. In which case, you might be lucky, and an even better option comes along; or, you might be unlucky, and circumstances force you to accept an even worse option.
  16. Jul 25, 2017 #15
    I think I will take the job since I can really use the money and would save about 20 hours/week. There is not much harm in trying for a semester and if I want, I think I can always ask him to work on separate project(s). Thank you, everyone!
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