Mentor Advice

Get to know your apprentice. Take on more than one. Reward good work.

Select the student well. Have regular meetings, with explicit objectives or goals to be accomplished for each meeting to help the student pace the work. Anticipate in your plans “difficult times,” especially around midterms and finals.

Establish a clearly defined research target, involving–in my case–bibliography and organization of data. Confer with the assistants both as a director of your scholarly research and as a colleague: discuss frankly your joint activity and also their current academic projects, so they can experience collegial interaction.Start strong and demand a lot. If you don’t, the students will not always pick up that this is serious. It is always easier to back off!

Important to meet the assistant each week once a week; to keep track as well as build on what s/he has done.

Just the obvious: a research project has to be challenging but it should not exceed capabilities of your apprentice.

Meet with each student weekly to keep them on track. Give them small, do-able projects. Ask your graduate students to take the URAP students under their wings. . . assign specific grad student to specific [Research Apprentice]. Start out with just one URAP student. If it works well, then try more.

Have a very clear sense of the basic skills you want the URA to acquire. Start with small, well-defined, even routine projects and then, when you have a sense of the URA’s strengths, build on them. I also discuss my weekly research with the URA so that she understands my work process–its structure and content.

Spend a lot of time with the student at the very start, paying particular attention to whether the problem being worked on is hard enough to be interesting, but easy enough that initial progress is made quickly.

Regular meetings. Clear instructions and expectations. Lots of feedback. Periodic casual lunches. Sense of humor.

Clear goals–what will the student be trying to accomplish and how does this fit into the “big picture”? Regular structure (meetings, feedback on progress toward goals). Opportunities for creative input from students. If possible, bring in an interested graduate student(s) working on same project.

I found it very useful to have regular meetings with the students. Even if we sometimes did not have new materials to discuss, at least seeing each other and keeping the group together seemed to work very well for me. I also wrote up little reports for each meeting. In this way, the students had a time sheet of sorts which they could consult, in case they were unable to come to the meeting.

For bibliographic work, have students sign up and complete these mini-courses offered at the library on how to do searches. Also for bibliographic work, diligent “B” students are sometimes better than inspired “A” students. If you have more than one URA, have them meet with one another and exchange #s and tips among themselves.

Do not take on more students than you have available work for (even if they desperately want to work with you). Set up a regular schedule of hours/week and provide sufficient guidance regarding how the tasks are to be carried out. Use e-mail when appropriate to communicate with the student, since office coordination is not always easy. Stress the importance of time management–be careful about taking on students who already have heavy course loads.

Essential to hold regular weekly meetings with the Undergraduate Research Apprentice.

A group meeting–two or three of us–over tea and cake in my home once every six weeks proved to be stimulating and productive. Each of us could talk about his and her work, bring along materials, and together we could examine books and pictures, play examples of music…

Give students specific tasks and have them sign up for specific hours each week, rather than having work be ‘free-form and open-ended.’

We have been careful (and lucky, perhaps) in selecting apprentices genuinely interested in our project. Once accepted we make every effort to integrate them with the staff of the project. We spend a period of time helping them understand the theory behind the research and how the study was actually conducted and what has been done up to the point they joined the project. We design for them short and discrete tasks that they can complete in a semester. Each task is more or less self-contained. There is also the social aspect of it: In the second or third week of the semester we have a staff lunch during which we talk about the project, our backgrounds and schedules. We may have a mid-semester lunch and then an end of semester lunch during which I present a gift to each apprentice in appreciation for their work on the project. The gift is usually in the form of a book on research or the particular interest (e.g. law) of an apprentice. I should also add that I give a gift certificate to each apprentice and each staff member during Christmas.

Make very sure the applicant is qualified for the intended assignments.