I started this post a while ago, and it got lost in the long list of Drafts.
But it's come up, because it's time at my almost-MRU for picking summer fellows for research.
Firstly, a word about my almost-MRU. Where I was before at a real high-flying MRU, everyone had money, the students not excepted. The students at that medical school were being trained to be leaders in medicine. They were cosseted and supported and nurtured. They also tended to be rich, by virtue of the inescapable logic that med schools want people who have Done Things, including shadowing of physicians. As one of the students I interviewed here said "I didn't know any doctors to shadow, I didn't have time, working two minimum wage jobs, to shadow anyone".
Fast forward: Potty leaves MRU, goes to almost-MRU in the middle of rural lower-kukamundaville, where someone, really and truly said to me: "You're an XYZ (minority)? I've never met one of those before."
So, back to almost MRU. It is a medical school in the lower quintile or quartile or something. Someone has to be there, so the upper third or quintile or quartile can sleep easy at night, knowing how good they are.
Almost-MRU fills a niche. They train primary care/family medicine/ people who are committed (mostly) to returning to rural and underserved urban communities. They try to help financially to help first generation types get medical degrees. The heart is in the right place, the follow-through, not always.
We have a program to bring first year med students into our labs for the summer. They pay these summer fellows $3000. But, as one person who I taught in the fall, and thought would be great in my lab, said to me: "I'm going back home, because I've got a job that will pay me more. It won't look as good on my record, but I need the money." First generation kids from blue-collar families are acutely aware of the interest clock ticking away on their educational loans.
I have, and will try this year (though almost-MRU doesn't make it easy) to push a little extra money to the kids who work in my lab. And yes, at my age, 22 year olds look like kids to me. They have set levels for these fellowships, and I'm perceived as rocking the boat when I try to do something different.
But I have colleagues who take "fellows"as "volunteers". I have a lot of trouble with this. To me, this is perpetuating all the class distinctions that we try so hard, or at least give lip service to eradicating. On the o ther hand, some of these are junior faculty struggling towards tenure. They don't have a lot of money. They may not yet have a major grant. Some years almost-MRU gave them a fellow, and subsidized this. But sometimes not. Some people have NSF grants, and 3K is not easy to squeak out of that level of funding.
This problem sets up tremendous cognitive dissoncence in my head and in my heart. I just don't know. Everyone is making free choices, but, but, but. I don't say anything, but I have lost sleep worrying about how I could make this better.
If we are serious about giving everyone a chance, we can't just "hire the best candidate". The best candidate may not have the best record. The person who can do the most good, to my lab, to science, to medicine, to humanity, may be hidden behind a CV of minimum wage service jobs.
I have always found that people who worked what I consider real jobs, McDonalds, cleaning bed pans in the hospital, bathing folks in a rehab SNF, waitressing, fixing cars, selling stuff at Walmart, are actually far better in my lab. I can teach anyone how to do surgery, how to make an electrode, how to collect data. I cannot, in a summer, teach a work ethic, teach a commitment to honesty and truth and Finding Out Things.
So I've found three fellows for my lab this summer. We shall see.