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What does it mean when a professor says these


2015undergrad

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I had kept asking a past professor for months about volunteer undergrad research work before I start grad school.

We finally met, and he said these things:

  • He mentioned about how research has to benefit for both him and myself....and so he cannot offer at this time or something. But then he asked if I would be interested in assisting with his current project.
  • He also offered some monetary amount for when the work starts, which I told him I cannot take the money, but he kept insisting? What does that mean? And how do I politely decline the money?
  • He had also offered to find an additional person to help me with the project. What does this mean? Does he not feel comfortable?
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I think it means exactly what he said -

 

He has a current project, and is not looking for new project right now.

He is willing to pay you.

There is enough work for more than one person.

 

Take the offer, take the cash. If he didn't feel comfortable with you, he would not have offered anything.

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Agreed with above. To add to this:

 

1. He might be saying that he is not able to supervise a new research project made for you at this time, because there is nothing that he needs done that you are a good fit for (in terms of experience etc.). However, it sounds like he is already working on another project with someone else and he would be able to pay you to help out on this project. This probably means that this will not be "your" project, you'll be an assistant. This is a good experience though.

 

2. He is able and willing to pay you. Why do you say you cannot take the money?? Also, note that most professors I know (although could be field dependent) do NOT want to have volunteers work for them. They much rather pay for an employee that will commit to the lab and the work. I'm not saying you will do this, but many undergrad students that volunteer with researchers end up putting other priorities ahead of the research work (e.g. courses, other jobs, etc.) if they are only volunteering. So, many professors would rather not have anyone work for them unless they can properly pay them.

 

3. There is either enough funding to hire two people, or there's more work than one person can do, or he just wants to train two undergrad students at the same time. Professors also benefit when they mentor/train students, so if there are two students interested in a project and enough funding for both, it's better for them to put both of you on the project!

 

Overall, I agree -- take the offer, accept the salary and do your best work!

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I had followed up for months with prof about research opportunity. When we finally met, he offered to find an additional student to help with the project. Is this insulting since I had to show initiative, while this other student doesnt have to?

Edited by 2015undergrad
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Don't take it that personally. You have an opportunity, don't squander it - show the PI that your initiative doesn't just stop at finding the project. The better you do, the more the PI will notice and give you more responsibilities. 

 

Overall, he could have just given the project to some other student, regardless of your efforts. Good luck!

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I had followed up for months with prof about research opportunity. When we finally met, he offered to find an additional student to help with the project. Is this insulting since I had to show initiative, while this other student doesnt have to?

 

This is a followup on question that you asked yesterday. There is no need to start a new thread when there is a discussion going on in the old one, so I have merged the two discussions. 

 

I would suggest not reading insults that aren't there into other people's words and actions. This professor doesn't owe you anything; he is offering to hire you as a research assistant and pay you, which would indicate a favorable opinion of you. He apparently has enough work for a second research assistant. I think your interpretation of this as him "offering to hire" someone to help you is just misguided. If he wants to hire someone else, it's not an "offer" and it's not to help you (because you aren't good enough), it's because there is more work to be done than one person can do (or: that one person can do within the timeline that the professor would like it to be done), and he has the money to hire a second person. This implicates exactly nothing about your own abilities. It's not an insult.

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At my undergrad university (in a foreign country, so maybe not completely applicable) professors weren't allowed to take on volunteers without paying them. Students had to be officially hired (and officially paid) for university insurance/legal purposes in case of a lab accident. In the US, I know that some science-based fellowships not only cover the student's stipend, but give money to the PI to cover the cost of the lab supplies they'll use, etc. 

 

Working in an academic lab environment - even at grad student level - means compromising on some things. You cannot necessarily just do your own project (it is PI dependent how much input you have in project design), nor can you necessarily do everything alone. This is a temporary summer project, not your thesis. 

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It's very difficult for us to take volunteers in our lab, and volunteers even with the proper paperwork have no liability coverage from the university in the case of an accident.

 

The options are to either pay the University during the summer and take the research as a course for credit, or to get paid as a researcher. Not sure why you don't want to take the cash.

 

As for having to track this professor for months, chances are he wasn't really looking until the end of the semester, and now he's going to get you and someone else to work for him. Not sure why you would find that insulting.

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Thanks so much everyone! :)

Btw, when he said he can find an additional helper, I was like "if you cannot find anyone, that is ok too". He then replied "because you're independent". What does that comment mean?

Also, I've also asked if I should follow-up again via email at end of the month (since he has to first plan out space, equipment, etc). He said he will email me. But should I email him anyways?

Edited by 2015undergrad
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You seem to be second guessing and overthinking everything he says. Why?

If you don't trust him or have a decent relationship, don't work for him.

Else, take him at face value.

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Thanks so much everyone! :)

Btw, when he said he can find an additional helper, I was like "if you cannot find anyone, that is ok too". He then replied "because you're independent". What does that comment mean?

 

Google Dictionary definition of independent: "not depending on another for livelihood or subsistence". In academia, this is generally considered a good trait because you are able to figure things out on your own and are good at working on your own. However, being too independent can be bad if you are not able to work well with others. The prof is making this statement because you implied that you are able to do this project by yourself (or that you prefer to work by yourself). 

 

However, I agree with Eigen and everyone else that you are over-analyzing every little thing someone says. This is a "throwaway comment", I bet the prof forgot they already said this. To me, it sounds like a natural reaction to acknowledge a statement, like "oh", or "hmmm" or "uh-huh". For example consider these conversations between two friends, A and B.

 

A: "If I was an ice cream flavour, I would be rocky road!"

B: "Because you love chocolate."

 

or

 

A: "I hope to take a vacation in Hawaii someday"

B: "Because you like beaches."

 

The reason that "B" says what they say comes both from B's knowledge of A as well as inferring information from A. But the purpose of these statements are usually just filler/acknowledgement. Sometimes they can be almost a question (e.g. if B really wanted to go to Hawaii because they want to eat a lot of pineapples rather than visit beaches, this would be a good chance for B to correct A and continue the conversation).

 

For the email question--let him email you at the end of the month. If he doesn't, send a reminder at the end of the month.

 

Overall, what is the reason that you are unsure of everything the prof is saying? Like Eigen said, if you don't trust him, then don't work for him. If it's just a language issue (perhaps English is not your first language and you're not sure what people mean?) then don't worry, you will understand more when you work with the prof more. Like meeting any new person, it takes a little time before you figure out when they are serious, when they are joking, etc. You can also ask your friends for language help and use a dictionary. And if the professor says something that sounds really weird, it might be an expression that you haven't heard before and you should just ask him to clarify.

 

It's okay to ask for clarification when it's a strange expression. Although, English is not my first language, I consider it my most fluent language (it's the only language I can fluently write and speak in) and I still ask for clarifications when hearing strange idioms for the first time (e.g. "Doing X is like herding cats" or "it's the tragedy of the commons"). 

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Eigen: Yea I'll try to stop overthinking. Thanks for the tip :)

 

TakeruK: Thanks so much for the detailed info :) It's my first time doing research work for a my prof, and so I'm just confused about a lot of things haha

 

Would it also be ok to email him about what resources I can start reading to prepare for the project? Or I should just ask about it when we meet next time?

Edited by 2015undergrad
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To answer your most recent question, it's a good idea to be a little prepared going into a meeting. If anything that might show even more of that initiative if you ask to read more on the topic prior to meeting with the prof ;)

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