Council on Undergraduate Research

NASA-USRP Questions

What happens if the project fails?

How much can I ask of a student?

Do I have to be there all the time to be an effective mentor?

How much guidance will a student require?

What does it take to be a good mentor?

Questions And Answers

What happens if the project fails?

This question will likely not be asked in this way. Undergraduate research students wonder, "What if I fail?" Certainly, there are some instances where student inaction or error may be the case, but more likely the project "fails" because non-results and incomplete stories are part of the scientific process. This lesson is important for students, and they need to understand the implications of "failure" (a word that will no longer be used). Results are what the results are. Data are simply the observations recorded. We are left to interpret what they mean, but the gathering of the data by itself is not considered subjectively. Perhaps the result is not what was expected or desired, but it will form the basis for the next set of experiments or send the researcher off in another direction altogether. Helping the student to sort out between sub-optimal experimental choices and unexpected or contrary results is an important task for a mentor.

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How much can I ask of a student?

Students are generally curious and willing to work hard. Clear guidelines, a well-constructed work package and open communication with the student will allow the mentor to adjust, either by increasing or decreasing, the expected deliverables based both on the student's skills and independence and on the nature of the project. Providing feedback to students enhances their productivity.

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Do I have to be there all the time to be an effective mentor?

Establish regular contact hours when you know you will be available. In the first weeks, your presence will be an important directive influence. If you cannot be present, assign someone to be available to answer questions or provide guidance.

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How much guidance will a student require?

It depends entirely on the student and the project with which she or he is paired.

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What does it take to be a good mentor?

Willingness to be a mentor. Be flexible, be patient, take the initiative, and be responsive. Plan for the experience and do what you can to engineer it for success.

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