Is lab technician basically considered worthless experience?

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drunkphysics
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Is lab technician basically considered worthless experience?

Postby drunkphysics » Thu Mar 20, 2014 10:08 am

I'm trying to get into grad school (aren't we all), and it's looking like I'm going to have to take another lap and study a bit harder for pgres this time around. In the mean time, it would only make sense to rack up some research experience. My BS in physics last year came from a very small liberal arts school, and as a result I had very little research going on throughout undergrad. I didn't get accepted to any REUs, and the only internship I had was working at the local city's science center for a summer. Now, I did have seminar classes, where students held 20-40 min presentations of individual research for 3 semesters, and I also had advanced lab courses and a SCE or senior research project, but I figure everyone likely has these types of research across the board during undergrad. But I seem to be lacking in all of this publication-type business everyone seems to be generally equipped with off the bat.

I've been working for 7 months now as a lab technician for a huge metals company, doing grunt lab work and research at their world headquarters for research/technology, which was conveniently located close to me. I'm performing and designing experiments weekly, working mostly with engineers and some chemists, but I'm still just a technician, pretty much the lowest on the rung it feels like.

My question is, is this experience worth anything? It seems like most other applicants have co-published articles at various labs during undergrad, or buddied up with their professors and helped out with their research, but the most that I have been able to find up to this point is this technician work. Should I keep at it for another year? Or should I try to do summer research at a university nearby? It would probably be unpaid, and I’m not making bad money as a technician, but I’m most concerned about my future, not about money right now. I’ve learned a lot about scientific methods within industry, and I would be applying for CME for grad school. I’m just worried that I’m not putting my time to good use.


Thoughts?

TakeruK
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Joined: Mon Jan 02, 2012 3:05 pm

Re: Is lab technician basically considered worthless experience?

Postby TakeruK » Thu Mar 20, 2014 12:13 pm

I don't think you need publications in order to get into grad schools. Many people who get into top programs have at least one co-authored paper, but not everyone! I also don't think lab technician is "worthless" either--it's certainly better than not doing anything scientific at all (whether in academia or industry).

I don't think non-academic research is worthless because I know lots of current scientists (professors, postdocs, current PhD students) who did industry / other non academic science between undergrad and grad school (or even after grad school). Depending on the school, academic research might be valued a bit more, but I am not sure if technician work is always better than unpaid summer volunteer research etc. Unpaid work often translates to less priority from your group/advisor (since they rather spend their time making sure their paid workers get work done!)

It might also be that when you were applying last Fall, you only had ~4 months of technician work, which isn't very much. I think schools do value the experience that people who have worked in industry bring in, but you might need more than just a few months to actually make that experience valuable!

In my opinion, I think if a Physics PhD program is your goal, you should definitely continue working in science in one way or another. I am not certain the switch from what seems like guaranteed and continuous technician work to temporary summer work is worth it. An REU-like program is only 10 weeks--I don't see how that can be better than 16 months as a technician (by the time you apply next fall). I mean, you could apply to summer research programs and see if you get any good offers. At the same time, I think you should also work on other parts of your application that you can change. Improve your PGRE score and maybe work on updating and improving your SOP. And consider who you are getting your LORs from! Finally, re-evaluate the schools you applied to and find ones that seem to fit what you're looking for and ones where you fit what they're looking for! Some programs might consider non-academic work worthless while others might look for more diverse applicants. Good luck!

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drunkphysics
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Re: Is lab technician basically considered worthless experience?

Postby drunkphysics » Mon Mar 24, 2014 11:51 am

TakeruK,

Thanks for the response! I appreciate the input very much. Yeah I think this experience would require at least a year to make it worthwhile for admission-credit.

I will definitely be spending this time perfecting all angles of my application. The LOR from my boss would be pretty decent, he says I do amazing work and he's a tough cookie to prease. Too bad he's foreign, my hope for a convincing syntax is pretty low. But you never know I suppose.

The schools I'm shooting for are no where near top notch, but I figure if I want to go for a top school, I might just get a masters and see what my options are from there. (assuming I make it :mrgreen: )

gotta just keep on keepin on..




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