Monday, May 7, 2012

Pupil's Predicament

I love to learn. I have a natural curiosity about the world, it is one of my favorite things about myself. So when I began Chem 123 (final chapter of a three part series on inorganic chemistry for science majors) this spring quarter at OSU, I maintained my optimism, despite the course's rather poor set-up. Our batch of classes were to be test gerbils for the new REEL program, which was intimidating, but meant that I would get the chance to do my very first undergraduate research. I was excited.

Time came for the preliminary project work, and our lab section was divided into groups. I ended up in the only group in class with five members instead of four, but I didn't think this would be a big deal. As I began my interaction with my group I immediately labeled them all as valley girls, but recognized my own harsh judgement and decided to give them all a fair chance. They're in a fairly difficult science course, after all.

If you've ever been in an OSU chem lab, you know the rooms aren't quite designed for group work. The room has four long lab benches in narrow aisles with chest-high dividers, and five people congregating around one packet of information that needs to be utilized ends up being two people actually completing the packet's exercises, two people copying off of them, and one person lagging behind trying to copy off one of the others because they can't hear or see anything else that's going on. And that was me.

At first I was astounded at how fast these girls flew through the work. I couldn't keep up for the life of me. Was my mentation that dull? I could feel contempt emanating from the one girl closest to me, because I was constantly asking her to flip back a page in her notes, or how they'd arrived at an answer. I felt like a dunce. I wondered how on earth they managed to understand concepts and calculate problems so fast, until I realized... they don't. Almost every problem and question they completed, they went back and erased it. Over and over and over again. Up to four or five times, because the thing is, they don't think. They just don't fucking think. They are lazy, they don't want to exert mental effort. They'd write something down they feel is vaguely correct, then have the TA check their answers, only to be told they're wrong and then they'd rinse and repeat. I longed for my own copy of the work to do so I could avoid this nonsense, but it was not doable. I dealt with this shit the entire first phase of the project.

The project deals with the chemical and physical basis of color. I find this exceptionally fascinating, because color is a popular subject for philosophers. If you look up the thought experiment "Mary's Room," it essentially uses the basis of color as an argument against physicalism. It's cool shit, and something I hold close to me, go look it up.

Anyway, I digress. Out project deals with color, and involves a stage where we make "new" pigments by mixing the compounds we're told to, and then Phase II where we are given the freedom to choose what compounds we mix, and basically take the research in any direction we want.

The girls in my group complained incessantly. They whined about how the packets we had to do were just busywork. Well of course, anything is busywork if you don't actually pay attention and learn from it. They went on and on about how stupid this project was and how it wasn't helping them understand the material any better. Well who's fault is that? You're bored, you say? You just had your hands on a $15,000 X-Ray Diffractor. At one of the only institutes in the world that lets undergraduates operate them. Aren't you interested in the slightest?

The girls would chat idly about such vapid bullshit as how their $300 Taylor Swift tickets didn't even get them seats that were that good, and compare how expensive their sororities were (I shit you not), and I interacted with them only when I needed to.

I'd been maintaining my optimism for Phase II of the project, until we were told our entire group had to agree on an objective, and write a single report, and give a communal presentation. Shit, they're already talking about it. I'd had my heart set on and idea. Here goes.

"Hey guys, I have an idea. Why don't we try and make a red pigment?"
They stared at me blankly.
"Dr. Ricciardo said red pigments were the most difficult to make, let's give it a shot and see if we can do it!"
I started to talk about all the different variables we had available to us, but I could tell they rejected the idea before I made it halfway through my first sentence. My heart dropped. Should have pitched that differently.
"We're not being graded based on our success, and we'll have a lot we can talk about in the report. What have we got to lose?"
Any further or different suggestions I offered were not considered in the slightest. There was no compromise. The girls ended up deciding on the most boring thing possible: using the same compounds for every trial while only varying the ratios.
"But that's just going to give us all the same pigment in different shades."

"Exactly, it's easy. We just want to do something simple and basic."

Thusly the fun was sucked out of the entire research project.

I hate you almost as much as I hate "violinists" with long fingernails, you dull, vacuous twats.
I hate you.

1 comment:

  1. I love it! And I have feel your pain.