Well, it has been a while since I posted on here so I’m trying to catch up on everything this weekend. Just like life as a postdoc in the UK, it seems to be non-stop here and I’ve barely had time to catch breath. My days have been long and crammed full.
I’m still trying to figure out the academic calendar here but there is very little interaction between researchers and undergraduates that I’m not sure. Just like the UK, there seem to be either two semesters or three terms and the academic year typically running from late September/October until late May/June. Just like the UK, it is common that final year undergraduate students will do a research project in a research lab but the students often spend the summer in the lab too… so ten days ago I met our four project students. They will get paid for the work they do over the summer and thankfully they seem interested and willing to ask questions.
One thing that struck me as odd – is that there seems to be a summer term and two of the students are doing courses this summer (although not chemistry). So, not everyone does the summer term courses. I must admit I’m not sure if they are additional credits or not. Although I am not familiar with the US style University system, there definitely seems to be a style of majors and minor subjects in the degree system.
The students here do not do as much practical chemistry courses as our students do in the UK, therefore there is a lot they have to learn – firstly to ensure they are safe in the lab and secondly that they have the necessary skills for working in the research environment. In my personal opinion, training chemistry students with the correct practical skills and awareness of safety and the importance of accuracy is paramount. It is essential that these lessons are learned early. Just like it is essential that the key techniques and hygiene issues are learned early by a chef. These are fundamental and basic principles.
Particularly early on in their projects, the students require a lot of supervision and guidance and I have been struggling to stay on top of the three projects I have to work on myself, however I find it very rewarding when they are clearly interested and learning. As I sit here typing this, I am having a break from writing the project outlines/plans of what they will be doing for the next eight months.
One of the things that I struggle with here is a culture that is far more authoritarian than I am used to in the UK (both in everyday life and at work). Also, while in the UK, the status of a postdoc has often been grey – we are staff but are often not treated as such – it is the same here but maybe further behind. Postdocs are still referred to as students! While as a researcher I spend my life learning, this is something that irks me a little.