As a mentor, I am continually learning how to better guide students in STEM pathways. It is not straightforward and can be confusing. In working with me, I find that defining expectations ensures that all voices are heard, and it sets the stage for future communication. When defining a research relationship, it should be clear, what are our mutual goals? What do we want, together, from this project?
Here is my Expectations Document for working with undergraduates. While this is always a work-in-progress, the core principles are explained below.
Summer 2019 - After a rigorous field season working with the Chrysopelea gliding snakes in the Socha Lab, I made "Snakies" for our undergrad and graduate scientists to commemorate the tremendous effort and thank them for their contributions. (Picture: Top to Bottom (Left): Dr. Jake Socha, Talia Weiss (grad), Dr. Salcedo, Maria Gonzalez (grad), Mela Coffey (undergrad). Top to Bottom (Right): Maria Gonzalez and Terrell Worrell (undergrad), Dr. Jack Whitehead, Joshua Pulliam (grad))
January 2020 - As an REU in the Socha Lab, Donovan Hardy (Chemistry, Morehouse) worked on an experiment to visualize and track dorsal heart movement in darkling beetles. His research culminated in a poster presentation at the national Society for Integrative and Comparative Biology in Austin, Texas. (Picture: Donovan Hardy and Dr. Salcedo at SICB poster session)
How do experiments work? What are successful pathways in STEM? How should you read a paper? Learning to ask questions is a key skill of any researcher. If you're not sure how to proceed, ask a question. If you're not even sure which question to ask, then it's time to chat.
Expressing complex ideas is difficult! As a research mentor, we will work on how you express your science to colleagues and the public. It is also important as a science team, we communicate with each other. Ensuring that our work environment is healthy, means establishing work boundaries, mental health practices, and overall work-life balance.
Skilled researchers can work on their own as well as in groups. However, independence in science is a learned skill. It builds over time as you gain experience, ask questions, and develop your own ideas. Independence does not mean being and working alone, rather you gain the ability to "see" the next steps and go after what you need.
Building experiments, analyzing data, writing papers, and presenting your science does not happen over night! We will be sure to outline what skills you will gain with each project and work towards achieving them. Skills continue to build the longer you invest in them. As you progress in STEM, you will gain the ability to quickly pick up skills as you need them.