What should be the primary goals? Hopefully, the student will
- learn some science (including some combination of concepts, theory, and techniques)
- learn something about how research is done (searching and reading the literature, trying different things, asking good questions, making mistakes, brainstorming, ...)
- experience some of the joys and frustration of doing science (including feeling dumb).
- get to personally interact with a range of scientists (faculty, postdocs, grad students)
The dominant goals should not be:
- use the student as slave labour
- get a publication
- keep the student happy
- recruit the student to do a Ph.D in the same group
- are highly technical [the students learns a lot of jargon or advanced techniques but does not know the basics, or context]
- mostly use prepackaged software (e.g. for computational quantum chemistry) [knowing something about what software is out there and how easy it can be to use can be a good thing, but it becomes dangerous when the student does not learn its limitations or the underlying principles. or if they start to think running code is doing research].
- are just too hard or speculative for undergraduates and they get nowhere.
- are so straight-forward the supervisor knows the answer before one even starts. they just need a slave to turn the handle...
Projects I like
- are as simple as possible
- illustrate important concepts
- allow the student to actually understand what is going on
- connect theory and experiment
- challenge the individual students preconceptions and prejudices [e.g. theoretical physics is just mathematics, theorists should not worry about experiment, I can't do units, I don't want to do any computational work ...]
I welcome comments, both from supervisors and those who have experienced good and bad projects.