Youth and experience

One of the good things about growing older is that you get to bully patronise mentor those who are younger and/or less experienced. One of my staff, who I mentored through the process of becoming a chartered member of CILIP, has recently had his application approved and is now a full member of CILIP – great rejoicing! I expect to take on another mentee soon.
I’ve also been putting some effort into providing work experience in the Library this summer for school students. In the past we have had mixed success with work experience students, but I think we now have it cracked. I aim to give them a broad experience of work, libraries and science. We have to be realistic, recognising that they can’t do anything very elaborate, but we shouldn’t expect them to be happy with 8-hours of drudgery. This is what we hope they (and we) gain from a placement:

  1. Get experience of what it’s like coming in to work every day
  2. Learn a bit about the Institute and the science here
  3. Learn a bit about libraries and information
  4. Learn a bit about some other sections in the Institute
  1. Do something useful for us

Last month we had two very different students, each here for two weeks one after the other. I gave each of them a talk about how research works, what MRC does and what the Institute does, and they also talked with each of the Library staff about their individual roles. The students worked on a range of tasks, from sorting out bibliographies in an Endnote database, and checking on online journal holdings, to producing listings of files in our archives.
One student was 15 years old, very much into IT. He spent some time with various people in our Computing department and with other non-laboratory sections (Health & Safety considerations meant he wasn’t allowed into any labs at his age). I also arranged for him to talk to computationally-intensive researchers in confocal image analysis, molecular modelling and crystallography. He was a willing worker but not very communicative so it was difficult to know what he made of it all. At the end of the fortnight though he said it had been “Great” and couldn’t have been any better.
The second student was 17 years old, very bright, and highly focused on medicine/medical research, with a particular interest in medicinal chemistry. I set up quite a few meetings for her to give her a broad flavour of modern medical research, and to let her talk both to some women scientists about women in science and to some clinician scientists about routes through medicine and science. She also had a talk with a real live medicinal chemist in MRC Technology which was useful. She ended up spending quite a bit of time helping out in one lab and getting some real experience.
It was quite a bit of effort preparing for their placements, setting up those visits, and making sure that they had something to keep them busy at most times. But we did get some good work out of both of them and I felt that we had given both some real windows into the practical world of scientific research.

About Frank Norman

I am a librarian in a biomedical research institute. I've been around a few years, long enough to know that exciting new things fall into the same familiar patterns. I'm interested in navigating a path for libraries as we move further from print to electronic resources to open research, and become more embedded in research workflows.
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