Saturday, December 5, 2009

My first data-less student.

Research students are usually asked to spend two semesters in the lab. At the end, they are required to give a public 10-minute talk, and depending on their advisor, write a paper. I have not required the paper so far. This is really the first student I've had give the presentation, and she didn't get any data. So we are crafting a presentation of the background including previous data and future directions.

She didn't get data for a variety of reasons.
One is that she was entirely over-involved and overloaded her first semester and the project kept falling to the bottom of her priority list. After sitting down with the research rubric and showing her that she would not get a passing grade (according to the rubric), she lit a fire under it and has been doing quite well this semester. She now is very good at the technique which we do, but the experiments failed each time.

Another is the unfortunate circumstance that she was only free to gather data on the day that I had teaching lab from 9:30a-5:00p. So she was flying solo most of the time. Due to this, she got pretty good at troubleshooting; her jury-rigging was quite clever. But I never really had time to mentor her in the lab, and lend helpful subtle suggestions that may have made her success.

So I blame myself for part of this, too. I didn't stop her from making the mistake I made in graduate school. Namely, if something didn't work enough times, to stop repeating the experiment and go back and check all the prep steps leading up to the experiment. She did do some of that, but because of a lack of great equipment in our department, we were never really sure about one aspect of it. We should have made a trip to the neighboring institution to use their equipment. I didn't make that happen. I also didn't repeat her measurements to reassure us of their validity.

I want to tear my hair out sometimes because when I am sitting down to my list of things to do, and it includes the CHOICE BETWEEN prepping for lecture- where I have a definite deadline, 60 people judging my success, and an instant reward- or doing something in my research lab- which may or may not work, has no definite deadline, and I am only responsible to one or two people- I choose lecture prep.

I'm getting more and more ready to buy myself a load reduction, so I can spend more time in the lab.

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