Professor William Menke
One of my many roles as a professor is mentoring a student, such as a high school, undergraduate or graduate student, who is working on an individualized research project. The project might be a formal requirement of a course, internship, or thesis, or might just reflect the student’s interest in science. The specific rationale for the project doesn’t matter to me. I approach mentoring similarly in all cases.
My primary goal is for the student to develop confidence in his or her ability to do science through carrying out a research project that leads to meaningful results about which he or she can be proud.
One of the consequences of this goal is that I treat each student as a “junior colleague” and expect him or her to take part in decisions affecting the course of his or her research. I never take on “research assistant” who merely fulfill some set of tasks that I prescribe. I am critically concerned that the student thinks about the research that he or she is doing and comes to understand its importance.
I meet regularly with each student and expect him or her to come to meetings on-time and well-prepared. I ask students a lot of questions, for I feel that a student comes to understand material best when he or she is able to explain it to others. But I am also ready to give a student an impromptu tutorial on whatever material he or she finds difficult to understand. One of the idiosyncrasies of modern earth science is that a long sequence of steps is often required to tease knowledge out of the huge piles of numbers that constitute the data that underpins our field, and these steps can be daunting to a novice researcher. I have a tremendous amount of experience working students through the steps in such a way that they do not lose focus on the end goal. I am also always willing to help with technical matters, such as coding, especially when I feel the issue is beyond the student’s training. But I have an “I’m working, you’re working,” rule. I will not tolerate a student off-loading work that he or she should be doing onto me. Students should expect me to review – and often heavily mark-up - several successive drafts of their research report. I feel strongly that its logic be crystal clear and that it be written in a normative scientific style.
I encourage each student to present his or her research to others in whatever forum is appropriate, which depending upon circumstances, might be a presentation of a class, a poster at professional meeting or an article in a scientific journal. I prefer that the student be first-author in all of these cases; in accordance with the junior colleague ideal, each student both takes responsibility for, and garners credit for, his or her own work.
Finally, I am always willing to introduce a student to a colleague who might be interests in the student’s work and to write letters of recommendation on the student’s behalf.