Taking a chance on the pre-med


What criteria do you have for bringing in premeds to do research in your lab?

There are so many reasons to keep away from premeds. For starters, premeds are more prone to:

  1. want research “experience” but don’t want to do actual research
  2. drop lab duties at the drop of a hat whenever an A- might happen
  3. walk away as soon as they think their stellar recommendation letter is a lock

Of course it’s unfair to apply these stereotypes to actual human beings. Even if they are premeds.

It’s difficult to filter unmotivated students, because many premeds are quick to feign interest. But you can’t do research for long if you don’t love it. The bottom line is that if I’m going to invest into a student, I want them to stick around. When you take on a premed, you’re taking a bigger chance that the investment won’t pay off in terms of data productivity. There are enough non-premeds in my midst that I can wholly avoid premeds, when properly identified. But I still accept them on occasion.

I can think of only one good reason to take on a premed. But it’s a really good reason. You can convert them. It’s tempting. Most premeds don’t go to med school, and their premed experience is a big mistake. You can rescue these students early on. You can show that a becoming a scientist is a real option. It gives you the opportunity to make a genuine difference in someone’s life.

Early on, I got burned plenty of times. But I had some successes, and now I have a better spidey sense when a premed is looking for a route off the path that they (or their families) have created. My main motivation is karmic. In retrospect, I still have no idea why I was a premed environmental biology major. The professor who took the chance on me is still an excellent mentor to me, and I like to think that it’s my duty to pass the favor along to her academic grandkids.

4 thoughts on “Taking a chance on the pre-med

  1. Terry – Great post. Remember my story about the pre-med who asked if he could work in my lab or some other ecology lab “as long as it looked good on his resume.”

  2. My one data point confirms your worries. The one time I took on a premed student for the summer, he stopped putting in effort halfway through the summer and I eventually had to fire him. In retrospect, it’s clear he was feigning interest in my lab and just wanted “research experience” on his resume. It’s only one data point. But once bitten, twice shy; I’ll be very hesitant to ever take on a premed student again.

  3. Yup. For me the stakes are high, because if I don’t sniff them out quickly enough, I’ve flown them down to the rainforest for the whole summer. I once sent a student home after four days. Really, the criterion is if I know them personally and trust them, which takes exposure and time.

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