Monday, May 19, 2014

Don't sign the form!

8 "Now, O king, establish the injunction and sign the document, so that it cannot be changed, according to the law of the Medes and the Persians, which cannot be revoked.” Therefore King Darius signed the document and injunction.
Daniel 6
[Later King Darius regretted he signed the document because it landed Daniel in the Lion's den.]

Over the years I been fortunate to work with some excellent undergraduates and Ph.D students on projects. However, there have been a few that I regret agreeing to work with. Problems can include a poor work ethic, disorganisation, a weak technical background, procrastination, ..... On reflection, I think there was a common dynamic whereby I originally took them on. Often they came to me in a rush that they had a form that had to be signed. There was some impending deadline for enrolment and if I could just sign it we can work out the details later. This is a mistake. This should be a warning sign. It can often signify disorganisation and also a focus on administrative procedures, rather than the much more important issue on the actual science of the project and what it would mean to work together.

I have found that getting prospective students to engage with my blog can be an effective filter. I ask them to read a few posts about relevant science and about my philosophy of supervision and write a few paragraphs in response. Do they agree or disagree? Why not? The effort they put into this response, their level of engagement, and their level of understanding can reveal quite a lot. Also, getting them to prepare an expectations document can be helpful.

So, don't just sign the form! Once it is signed it becomes much more complicated to "move on" a mediocre/difficult/frustrating student. Beginning faculty should take particular note.

1 comment:

  1. Having periodic (annually or half-year) evaluations of research students, along with recommended actions, should take care of this, one would think.

    It kind of boggles why anyone would sign on to do research to satisfy some administrative procedures. If there is a way to sign-in to a research group, there must also be ways to sign-out of the same group.