To help your students understand their role in the lab and related expectations, address critical issues, and set forth a plan at the very start of the term to avoid surprises down the line. Consider the following tips:
At the start of the project…
- Evaluate your student’s background, relevant classes, etc. and discuss their motivations for engaging in research. Are they simply exploring the field or seeking to develop specific skills? Do they hope to build or create something new? Are they creative? Detail oriented? Aligning students with projects that seem to be the best fit for their skills and expectations will improve the experience for all involved.
- Discuss schedules. Find out how many classes the student is taking and what other activities/jobs they plan to pursue, then set schedules that work for you both. A key can be avoiding having crucial deliverables due at the mid-point or end of term, since students may become overwhelmed by class work/exams at these times.
- Develop a realistic plan and outline expectations, including time commitments and deliverables, but be prepared to reevaluate as the term progresses. Having clearly defined targets for task completion can help greatly.
- Define the factors your lab uses to determine authorship credit, should publications result from UROP projects.
- Clarify who retains custody of primary, original data; be it gathered in the field or in the laboratory.
- Consider having students write a personal project timeline and meet with them often to review progress. The student’s UROP proposal can serve as a blueprint for the term, but you will both benefit from regular check-ins related to their progress and needs.
Help enhance student confidence
- Students want to make meaningful contributions, but you may need to help them connect the dots between their project and the overall research goals (i.e. ‘if we can generate this data…it will lead to…’). Putting student projects in context can help them understand how their research might relate to other work in the lab or overall research field. Providing background reading or suggesting articles to help the student learn more and solidify concepts/contexts can also prove very helpful.
- Vary project tasks (i.e. start by developing techniques/understanding, then provide opportunities for them to have more freedom to create – opportunities to prepare posters, draft papers, present at lab meetings, attend conferences, etc. alongside labwork can help students further strengthen their skills). Aiming to have students assigned to projects that have the potential to lead to publications that they might help co-author can be a great motivator.
- Be available and responsive. Let your students know your schedule, how best to reach you, and hours that you are available for consultation, especially if the project involves some independent work. Responding to their queries promptly will help them feel heard and appreciated, but you may need to clarify your communication expectations for them as well (expected responsiveness to your queries, what they should do if they can’t make it to lab, have questions, etc.).
- Discuss supervision responsibilities. Clarify who will oversee day-to-day research and who will supervise if you are away/unavailable as well as who will approve weekly timesheets (if a paid UROP) and/or how are grades determined (if a credit UROP).
- Provide active feedback on students’ projects and check in with them regularly about what they may need from you and and other lab mentors. Offering constructive criticism to help guide student learning, while maintaining their confidence can be key. When research doesn’t progress as expected or the student fails to come to lab as expected, discussing the matter promptly or consulting UROP staff sooner than later may prove helpful. Delaying conversations about lack of progress can be frustrating for all involved and there may be other factors at play that warrant additional resources and support.Consider evaluating each other at the mid-term in addition to at the end of term.
- Meet regularly to reevaluate plans/deliverables can be key. Clearly define how the student might prepare in advance for such meetings so that you can have focused discussions.
- Involve students in lab/group meetings, when possible, to help them learn about the overall research environment and contextualize their role within it. Group meetings can be a great way for students to connect with faculty advisors and interface with the other researchers.
Students view you as a key mentor, so will greatly benefit from your experience, knowledge, and advice. Students may approach you with questions about classes, graduate school, career options, etc. – your support and openness to a dialog will go a long way. Clarify the types of issues you are open to assist with and what they may need to seek from other mentors.
If you have questions or need additional advice as you work with UROP students, please reach out to UROP Office staff.