Getting to Know my Lab Group December 20, 2010Posted by Christine Morrison in Fulbright, Germany, Undergraduate.
Tags: chemistry, collaboration, competition, diversity, Dr. Annie K. Powell, lab group
I am now four months into my Germany adventure and well-adjusted to my life here (though perhaps a bit cold!). I have a lot to share, but for now I will just describe some experiences with my lab group.
The first time I met my lab group, they were enjoying some bratwursts on the balcony of the Inorganic Chemistry Building. The first thing I noticed about the group is the diversity. The group is 19 people strong and represents the following countries: Germany (5), Greece (2), England (2), Cameroon (1), Moldova (1), Russia (1), China (3), Pakistan (1), India (2), and the USA (1 – me!). We often get together for drinks and conversation ranging from science, to soccer, to different cultural values. Although I have been working in this group for a couple months now, I still am amazed by conversations with my labmates. Given the range of nationalities, we usually speak in the so-called universal scientific language, English.
I look up to the professor I work for, Dr. Annie K. Powell, a great deal, especially since I hope to be a professor myself one day. I should mention here that I am quite prone to stress. Give me a project and I will do it well but probably with a fair dose of stress. Knowing this about myself, I was a little afraid of a high-stress career like professorship. Annie has shown me that this does not have to be true. Yes, she leads a busy life of grant-writing, paper-reading, teaching, meetings, and traveling, but it can be done without shaving some years off one’s life.
I believe part of the reason for this is the extent of collaboration she endorses. The Powell group has connections on most of the inhabitable continents, which serve as a support system for greater scientific and cultural understanding. They also create a relaxed, supportive environment rather than a competitive one (although, of course, competition exists). While this level of collaboration is not necessarily typical of German (or American) groups, it is inspiring. I will strive to adopt the same relaxed, but serious, and supportive network in and out of my own lab group someday.
I enjoyed the fruits of one collaboration in particular that I experienced firsthand–atop a mountain overlooking the city of Freiburg. For three days we shared a cabin with a physics group for, quoting my professor, “serious science and serious fun.” And that is exactly what the weekend was filled with: dozens of presentations followed by karaoke. It was an amazing weekend that showed me all of the great things that can be gained from being a little more collaborative and a little less competitive.