An letter by Lisa Mullins, PhD, as provided by Julia K. Patt
Art by Dawn Vogel
Greetings Fellow Plodder in the Academic Trenches,
If you’ve received this binder, it means you have had the misfortune of being assigned BIO 457 as your T.A. post for the semester. My sincere condolences.
I was once like you–beleaguered and overwhelmed, fretting about comps and unresponsive advisors and publications and postdoc appointments. Trust me when I say that to survive T.A.-ing this class, you have to put those concerns from your mind. Study, yes. Fulfill your responsibilities as well as you can. But don’t lose your focus in 457, or you’ll be facing a lot worse than asking for a dissertation extension or disappointing your committee members.
First things first: Unless he’s died or wandered off, Dr. Piotrowski always teaches this class. He is roughly 900 years old, can’t see further than three feet in front of his nose, and sounds like a leaking radiator when he lectures. But don’t underestimate him. I once saw him push a junior biochemistry lab assistant through a portal to another dimension just to see what would happen. Never get between Dr. P and a portal.
Over the years, his experiments have included ice rays, death rays, hypnotic rays, sleep rays, kill-chip implanted super soldiers, undead kill-chip implanted super soldiers, shark-cyborg hybrids, undead shark-cyborg hybrids, contacting chthonic deities, talking apes, extrasensory perception serums, piercing the veil, and a twenty-foot mecha one of our predecessors called the Salad Spinner of Death.
And that’s just in the spring semesters.
More undergraduates go missing in 457 than during study abroad trips to countries flagged by the CIA.
Depending on your level of cynicism and how many intro classes you’ve T.A.-ed for previously, you may be tempted to try to save the students. Don’t bother. I’m not saying undergraduates are expendable. I am saying that in many cases, it will be you or them, and if they’re still drunk from the night before, they might not even feel anything.
And keep this in mind: they are a further obstacle to your sanity, wellbeing, and health. Because the sort of students who take 457 are … unique, to say the least.
You’ll notice it when you start reviewing their experiment proposals. Oh, there will be the usual animal behavioral tests and biochemical interactions. But there will also be (likely killer) nanobots and teaching rats to infiltrate the Pentagon and a sentient gelatinous blob that may or may not follow you back to your studio apartment from the lab one afternoon.
You can weed some of these out when you review their proposals. Many of them will not be subtle. But Dr. P will discourage none of it–indeed, he often encourages them. All the more reason to keep your wits about you.
How can this be? You might be asking. Why doesn’t the Dean put a stop to it? The Department Chair? But I think you already know the answer. The university doesn’t care if students go missing as long as the tuition gets paid. No one can touch Dr. P. And I’m willing to bet more than one of his experiments has ended up in the hands of DoD.
Your job, my friend, is simply to survive this. Get your helmet and your rubber gloves. Goggles on at all times. And if you see a tentacle reaching for you, dive out of the way. Sure, it’ll probably grab a freshie instead. But that’s what they’re here for.
PhD candidate, class of 2015
P.S. The password on Dr. P’s computer is, predictably, “password.” You’ll need it for grading.
P.P.S. Never open the folder labeled: “Upcoming Projects.” Seriously, the T.A. two years before me went mad instantly.
Lisa Mullins, PhD, is the founder of the Society for Responsibility in the Mad Sciences. Currently a postdoc at [redacted] University, her academic interests include gene therapy, immunology, and preventing the rise of sentient artificial constructs which will subjugate all mankind. She has never sacrificed an undergraduate to a portal of unspeakable evil. Probably.
Julia K. Patt lives in Maryland with the smallest, furriest Elder God and her unwitting orange tabby acolyte, which never fails to make life interesting. Her stories have recently appeared in Clarkesworld, Escape Pod, and Luna Station Quarterly, and she is at work on a novel. Twitter: @chidorme. Website: juliakpatt.com
Dawn Vogel writes and edits both fiction and non-fiction. Although art is not her strongest suit, she’s happy to contribute occasional art to Mad Scientist Journal. By day, she edits reports for and manages an office of historians and archaeologists. In her alleged spare time, she runs a craft business and tries to find time for writing. She lives in Seattle with her awesome husband (and fellow author), Jeremy Zimmerman, and their herd of cats. For more of Dawn’s work, visit http://historythatneverwas.com/.
“T.A. Guide for BIO 457: Advanced Experimental Models” is © 2018 Julia K. Patt
Art accompanying story is © 2018 Dawn Vogel