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The list

September 26, 2011

It feels like the semester just started.  It can’t be more than a few weeks in, but shit is already serious if you’re an undergrad.  The first few assignments and quizzes have been graded, classes have been dropped, meetings for extracurriculars have been skipped, an all-nighter  has been pulled, and the fear of the first exams is strong.  Even if they show up every day at the appointed time, from this point in the semester until the end of the first week of December, there will only be a few glorious times where a UROP can give lab work their full attention.  This is annoying and amoung the most-cited reasons for not advising undergrads, however small modification to your approach can keep your army of minions churning out data while maintaining the “student-in-good-standing” status both of you need for them to continue to work for you for free.

I’ve found that the best way to fully exploit their energy and enthusiam during the academic year is to give them a list (or for the more seasoned ones, make a list together) of the next four or five things to do to forward each of their projects and then step back and let them organize their own time.  During the summer when they are in every day, I’m not so explicit and expect them to figure that shit out for themselves, but their ability to do that dimishes during the school year.  Without a list, they’ll walk into lab, think really hard for a while and then use their time to set up a couple of overnights.  With a list, they’ve popped in over the weekend or before class to start the overnights and can use their lab time to do an experiment.  Guess which is more fun?

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