Learning Through Research

Taryn_WinkleAt least six weeks before the student arrives, the mentor should contact the student to discuss the project they will work on together. Do not expect the student to initiate the contact! Mentors should recommend background reading, web sites, or provide in-depth information about the work. Give students a clear description of the work they will perform including objectives or goal statements. Give them as much specific information about the project as possible.

At least a month before the student arrives: the mentor should contact the Center's NASA-USRP Coordinator to ensure a smooth transition into the Center and the laboratory. 

At least a week before the student arrives: The mentor will have: (1) defined the project by writing a work plan, (2) made arrangements for a work station (including phone, computer, computer account access, etc), research space (if applicable), equipment, and supplies. The student should have done the recommended reading. These preparations are critical and ensure that the student can commence work on the project immediately. Both student and mentor will be able to make the most of the short ten- or fifteen-week period.

When the student arrives, mentors are responsible for the following:

  • Orientation into the work group 
  • Introduction to the individual who will supervise the student on a daily basis (if different from the mentor)
  • Introduction of all team members
  • Special group-specific instruction (for example, using the stockroom, specific work hours, safety instruction not covered in a general session provided for all students, etc.)
  • Overview of "creature comforts" in the lab (where do people have lunch? Breaks? Where is the coffee pot? Restrooms? Supplies?)
  • If the student is invited to group meetings, inform him or her where and when will the group meet and whether he or she is expected to report on the project.


The first week is very important and may well set the course for the whole ten- or fifteen-week experience. Mentors should expect to spend significant time with the student or ensure that someone else with technical expertise is available. Students should be integrated into the routine of the lab or group during this week. Relationships are very important to students, and during the first week, care should be taken to ensure that good interpersonal interactions are established. 

Some of the expectations that need to be addressed up-front are:

  • Expected hours in the laboratory
  • Laboratory techniques and methods
  • Proper notebook keeping
  • Care/maintenance/reporting of instruments or breakage
  • Expected timeline for activities (if possible)
  • Expected meeting time(s) with PI